Tag Archives: george bush

Iraq, ISIS and Al Qaeda: Sowing the Wind…

In recent days I have been reading the statements, speeches and documents of senior members of the Bush administration justifying the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Until it invaded Kuwait in August 1990, that regime was considered an ally against the Iranian Mullahs. But that changed when he invaded Kuwait, following an American diplomatic miscalculation which he interpreted as our acquiescence to his plans.

Of course like Paul Harvey used to say, we know “the rest of the story.” The administration of George H.W. Bush assembled a coalition and obtained the support of the United Nations Security Council to drive Saddam’s forces out of Kuwait. Interestingly enough the coalition included Sunni and Arab, Shia regimes including that of Syria. Twelve years later following the Al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the son-of-Bush, George W. Bush and his administration desperately tried to link the most disparate group of nations to the actions of Al Qaeda; Iran, a mortal enemy of the Sunni Al Qaeda extremists, North Korea, a rogue nation in its own right, but with no proven contacts with the terrorist group, and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, a rather unique regime which managed under a secular mantle to unify a disparate country well enough that hundreds of thousands of Shia Arabs gave their lives in nearly decade long war with Shia Iran.

The imbecilic decision to attack Iraq, despite all the evidence to the contrary, and the knowledge that the previous Bush administration rejected the idea of overthrowing Saddam and occupying the county was disastrous. Likewise the decision to lump the Shia regime of Iran, which realized the militant Al Qaeda threat and was working through back channels to cooperate with the United States against it, was stupid. The decisions destroyed the balance of power in the region and eliminated the one relatively, though admittedly despotic secular state that opposed both Al Qaeda and Iran ran contrary to an sane understanding of geopolitics and national security.

After eight years of struggle the United States withdrew its military forces pursuant to an agreement negotiated by the Bush administration with the Shia dominated government of Iraq. The rest is history. That government under Prime Minister Maliki did all that it could to keep itself in power while marginalizing the largely secular Sunnis who rose to drive out Al Qaeda in the Anbar Awakening helped bring about the resurgence of the Al Qaeda terrorist extremism, in its new and more lethal form of the Islamic State.

Too late the Iraqi government, Iran, the United States, Europe, the United Nations, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have woken up to the threat. ISIS now controls large chunks of strategic territory in Iraq and Syria, it is dismantling Al Qaeda and supplanting it as the terrorist organization of choice for young Jihadists around the world. The brutality and single minded devotion of of ISIS to radical Salafi and Wahhabi Islam makes Al Qaeda and the Taliban look like the Boy Scouts. It is well funded through black market oil and through rich benefactors in the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia and its recruiting efforts are bringing in volunteers around the world.

Now the world is faced with a beast that need not have been created. But, the hubris of the Bush administration to destroy the long standing balance of power in the region, eliminate Saddam and alienate Iran, just when we needed both; as well as the short sighted religious devotion of Sunni- Wahhabi and Salafist fundamentalists who funded Sunni militants and terrorists with petrodollars for two decades has opened the door to Pandora’s box. The beheading of American Photo-Journalist James Foley, the killing and persecution of Christian and Yadizi minorities who have lived in Iraq for millennia and the slaughter of Shia Moslems by the ISIS Caliphate demonstrate the level to which ISIS will go to achieve their ends.

There will be no quick end to this war. It will be a war of unimaginable duration, brutality and excess because it will be a war of radically opposed ideology infused with fanatical religion and even racism? The West, too long in denial of the importance of ideology in war, despite having fought ideological, religions or racial wars will be slow to appreciate this fact. However, when it does after yet another massive terrorist strike, the media will whip Americans and Europeans into a frenzy and the gloves will come off and the battle will be joined. The war will take years, maybe decades and the effects will be felt around the world. The brutality will drive moderates to the extremes and it will become a clash of civilizations, probably only rivaled in brutality and destruction by the war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

Of course none of this is what I want, and I do hope that I am wrong, but I sense that it will play out this way. The details are yet to be decided, but this ideological war, the offspring of the American hubris of the second Bush administration, European greed and the shortsightedness of wealthy Sunni Arabs in promoting a dangerous brand of Islam have brought us to this point. All of us have sowed the wind and now, we will reap the whirlwind.

In such a conflict I wonder about the words Joshua Chamberlain spoke at Gettysburg almost a century and a half ago: “…men made in the image of God, marred by the hand of man, and must we say in the name of God? And where is the reckoning for such things? And who is answerable? One might almost shrink from the sound of his own voice, which had launched into the palpitating air words of order–do we call it?–fraught with such ruin. Was it God’s command that we heard, or His forgiveness that we must forever implore?”

Peace Padre Steve+

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Filed under Foreign Policy, middle east, national security, Uncategorized

The Naming of a New Aircraft Carrier and the Centrality of the Navy in Future National Security Strategy

USS HUE CITY CG-66 Enforcing the UN Oil Embargo against Iraq in April 2002

“Control of the seas means security. Control of the seas means peace. Control of the seas can mean victory. The United States must control the sea if it is to protect our security.” —John F. Kennedy

“For in this modern world, the instruments of warfare are not solely for waging war. Far more importantly, they are the means for controlling peace. Naval officers must therefore understand not only how to fight a war, but how to use the tremendous power which they operate to sustain a world of liberty and justice, without unleashing the powerful instruments of destruction and chaos that they have at their command.” Admiral Arleigh Burke

Over the Memorial Day weekend Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced the naming of the second ship in the Gerald R. Ford class aircraft carrier.  The name selected was significant as the ship will be named the USS John F. Kennedy CVN-79, her namesake being President John F. Kennedy who served as a junior officer in the Second World War commanding a Patrol Torpedo Boat, PT-109 in the Solomon Islands. Kennedy’s boat was rammed and split in two by the Japanese Fubuki class destroyer Amagiri in the early hours of August 2nd 1943.  Over a period of six days he made herculean efforts to save his crew and was awarded the Navy Marine Corps Medal and the Purple Heart.

The United States has always been a seafaring nation and today the vast majority of our commerce is borne by ships from the world over. The United States learned during the Revolution and the War of 1812 the importance of sea power when the Royal Navy for all intents and purposes rules the waves. Even the land victory of Washington at Yorktown was sealed by the intervention of the French Fleet which prevented the British from evacuating the garrison.  During the Civil War the Union Navy was the deciding factor as it blockaded Southern ports and forced the Mississippi River cutting the Confederacy in two and sealing its fate even as Confederate armies battled Union forces in the bloodiest battles ever seen on this continent. The Navy was the deciding factor in the Spanish American War sweeping the Spanish Navy from the seas and dooming its garrisons around the world.  The U.S. Navy began the First World War late but by the end was the ascendant naval power in the world and was one of the major reasons that the British in spite of the superiority that they had at the time agreed to the Washington and later London Naval accords.  When the Second World War erupted the United States was in the beginning stages of a Naval build up to reinforce and replace the fleet that was still dominated by the ships built prior to the Naval treaties.   In the Pacific the Japanese Navy steamrolled its scattered and ill equipped opposition while in the Atlantic German U-Boats decimated convoys very nearly breaking the back of Great Britain and the Soviet Union. However it was the Navy initially stretched to its limits by the Two Ocean War which regained the initiative which in an unprecedented build up of Naval Power defeated its adversaries and safeguarded the vast convoys of merchant ships carrying American troops and equipment into battle and bringing American Lend Lease aid to reach Britain and the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, Korea and Vietnam the Navy was a flexible and mobile response force to crises around the globe military, diplomatic and humanitarian, often diffusing situations without a shot having to be fired in anger and eliminating the need for large numbers of ground forces. In the 1980s the Navy secured the Gulf of Sirte against the threats of Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi and kept the Persian Gulf open during the Tanker Wars initiated by Iran on merchant ships transiting the Gulf. American naval power was again on display during the Gulf War and subsequent United Nations sanctions on Iraq.  After 9-11 the Navy has been a response force around the globe in the War on Terrorism as well as numerous natural disasters and humanitarian crises. When a crisis develops which might require a military response the first questions on the mind of every Presidential administration has been where is the nearest Carrier Strike Group and Marine Expeditionary unit.  Today the Navy supports military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Horn of Africa and against piracy.

The vast majority of the world’s populations now live on the littorals, or the land areas adjacent to the ocean.  The bulk of world commerce is maritime commerce; the United States depends on secure sea lanes to support our economy.

While sea power is essential to American national power, diplomatic, economic and military large standing armies are not. Yes our land forces must be strong and in quality the best in the world. At the same time whenever we have committed large numbers of land forces to ill defined campaigns we have squandered national power and prestige in wars that have been at best stalemates and at worst strategic defeats. This of course excemts the two World Wars where those large land forces were engaged they had a specific mission that was directly tied to national strategy.

We have come to a place in our national life where our strategic thinking still largely influenced by the World Wars and the Cold War has to be modified.  The major land wars launched by the Bush administration in Iraq and Afghanistan have proven incredibly costly in terms of manpower and economics and it is clear that the Obama administration and bipartisan Congress will seek to disengage sooner rather than later from those wars.  One knows that once those wars are over that land forces will shrink as plans are already on the table with cuts already beginning in some services.

Of course one has to ask what the military should be composed of in light of a coherent national security strategy that takes into account the full spectrum of threats to our nation many of which are not military in a traditional sense. To sustain large numbers of land forces on foreign territory is expensive and often fraught with peril when there are changes in the leadership of allied nations on which we depend for the basing of such forces. Even forward deployed Air Force assets are subject to these constraints.  Such basing was necessitated by the Soviet threat during the Cold War.  All previous overseas conflicts were viewed by American leaders as expeditionary in nature, land forces would go in with a specific goal for a limited time. If forces were left in place they were generally small and of a constabulary nature.

Only the Navy-Marine Corps team provides the flexibility to provide a rapid military or humanitarian response to overseas contingencies.  Critics call it “gunboat diplomacy” but then we have found what we are doing is not sustainable and we need an alternative.  That alternative is the Sea Services, which also include the Coast Guard and Merchant Marine.  The Bush administration reduced the Navy in terms of ships and personnel in order to support land wars of questionable strategic value, even turning thousands of Sailors into soldiers to support Army missions in Iraq and Afghanistan without reducing and even expanding the requirements of Naval forces.  This was a mistake of unmitigated proportions, no strategic goal that we have accomplished in either Iraq or Afghanistan could not have been accomplished by the Navy and Marine Corps and contingents of Special Forces, military and civilian advisors and the CIA.

Theodore Roosevelt had a saying, “speak softly and carry a big stick.” He was not an isolationist by any means; he advocated engagement with the world but also protections, military, economic and ecological for Americans.   A strong Navy was central to his thinking as were good relations with other nations.  He understood the importance of the Navy in supporting American interests. In his annual address to Congress on December 6th 1904 he stated:

“In treating of our foreign policy and of the attitude that this great Nation should assume in the world at large, it is absolutely necessary to consider the Army and the Navy, and the Congress, through which the thought of the Nation finds its expression, should keep ever vividly in mind the fundamental fact that it is impossible to treat our foreign policy, whether this policy takes shape in the effort to secure justice for others or justice for ourselves, save as conditioned upon the attitude we are willing to take toward our Army, and especially toward our Navy. It is not merely unwise, it is contemptible, for a nation, as for an individual, to use high-sounding language to proclaim its purposes, or to take positions which are ridiculous if unsupported by potential force, and then to refuse to provide this force. If there is no intention of providing and keeping the force necessary to back up a strong attitude, then it is far better not to assume such an attitude.”

Roosevelt understood better than most of his peers around the world of the necessity of worldwide engagement and the protection of American interests.  As interdependent as the United States and our allies are on international cooperation in anti-terrorism, humanitarian response and the free flow of commerce the Sea Services have to be the primary means of response.  Land forces are important but it is clear that they will need to be reorganized and rebuilt after the long and arduous conflicts that they have shouldered and ultimately they are dependent on the Navy for the bulk of their support when deployed overseas.

Any new national security strategy must prioritize our nation’s goals with diplomatic, intelligence, military and economic assets. We must leverage power and not squander it.  Naval forces are among the most flexible and economic means of exercising the military aspects of such strategy and are not hostage to unstable governments as are forward deployed land forces.   Naval power leverages national power in ways that forward deployed land forces cannot and are far more connected to goodwill than are ground forces which are seen by many around the world as occupying forces.

British Maritime strategist Julian Corbett in his book Some Principles of Maritime Strategyprovides a clear understanding of how sea power is best suited to the principle of a true national strategy for a maritime nation which emphasized limited and asymmetrical warfare.  Such strategy sustained the British Empire until it allowed itself to become mired in the trenches of Flanders and the shores of Gallipoli during the First World War killing off the flower of the nation’s youth and nearly bankrupting the nation and alienating much of the empire.

Corbett maintained that naval forces were best suited to controlling lines of communications, focus on the enemy, and maneuver for tactical advantage.  He also believed that naval forces best suited the political, economic and financial dimensions of waging war as well as war’s technological and material aspects.  One key aspect of this was the Corbett believed that continental war where large land armies are deployed inherently act against opponents limiting their political aims and increase the chance of total war with all of its destructive effects.  Corbett understood, as Clausewitz did before him the primacy of politics in war and necessity to devise appropriate strategies to protect the national interests while emphasizing efficiency in battle while preserving costly assets.

Ultimately the United States is a maritime power. When we try to become a continental power by engaging in protected land wars overseas we lose our strategic and economic advantage.  One can argue that we would not be in Iraq or Afghanistan today had it not been for the deployment of land and air forces on the Arabian Peninsula following the Gulf War.

The new USS John F. Kennedy when completed will be one of the key platforms of American power projection in the middle part of this century and it is important that we strengthen and modernize the Navy so that it might meet the tasks required of it by our nation and our friends around the world.  It is imperative that we as a nation remember our heritage and return to it as we develop a strategy that is at last freed from the World War and Cold War model.  The time for that is now.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Military, national security, Navy Ships, US Navy

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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