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Padre Steve’s 2013 Down and Dirty Primer on the Muddle East

Free Syrian Army soldiers in Idlib

“When you are up to your arse in alligators it is hard to remember that your mission is to drain the swamp.” Old British Colonial Saying

Note: This is an update to my 2011 Primer on the Muddle East

During the dark days of World War Two when Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was making fools of a series of British commanders in North Africa people including senior British military and government leaders sometimes referred to the theater of operations as “the Muddle East.” Some things never seem to change. The Muddle East today is quite frankly speaking in a real muddled state if there ever was one with world leaders and regional leaders muddling about as if they were the New York Mets.

A large part of the muddle goes back to the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the close of the First World War when the victorious Allied Powers redrew the map of the Middle East and made alliances with various local tribal sheiks who many times were crowned king over other tribes who didn’t necessarily want them as king. This along with heavy handed European military actions such as the British using poison gas dropped from aircraft in Iraq and a real lack of effort to better the lives of the newly “liberated” peoples of the region was just the start. Add to the cesspool a bunch of oil presided over by major oil companies, the anti-colonial movements that flourished in the years after World War Two when the French, British and Italians had to divest themselves of their Middle Eastern holdings. The French had to fight a real war in Algeria but finally withdrew leaving Algeria’s new rulers to goof up the country and oppress their people for decades to come.  In the coming years many of these newly independent nations found that life still sucked so in a number of countries military officers overthrew the despised monarchs promising reforms but oppressing their people while blaming all their problems on the Israelis.  They got their asses kicked by the Israelis in a series of wars which did a number of things that made the Middle East Muddle even worse.

First it ensured that Palestinian Arabs ended up under Israeli rule and were used with great aplomb by the Middle Eastern despots to prop up support for their regimes while doing nothing to help the Palestinians other than to put them in camps in Lebanon.  Even when the Egyptians made a peace deal with Israel most of the Arab World ostracized them.  Then in 1979 the Shah of Iran was sent packing by a bunch of Mullahs and in 1981 Saddam Hussein’s Iraq attacked Iran in one of the bloodier wars of the late 20th Century which finally ended in 1988. Of course the United States was pissed at the Mullahs so Saddam became our favorite Arab despot for a while.  Add to the mix the Soviet Union and the United States arming their favorite Arab dictators who were given carte blanche to continue oppressing their people so long as it didn’t interfere with their support of either party or the oil supply. Finally the Soviets went Tango Uniform in 1989 not long after being forced out of Afghanistan by the U.S. supplied, Pakistani supported and Saudi Arabian fundamentalist financed Mujahideen.

With the Soviets “Tango Uniform” and the Warsaw Pact nations trying to get into NATO the United States was now the uncontested Numero Uno country in the world Saddam presumed upon his late supporters and invaded Kuwait, albeit after thinking that the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq said that we wouldn’t mind.

Well he was wrong we did mind and got a lot of countries from NATO and including a bunch of Arab countries like Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia to get on board on a mission to get Saddam’s troops out of Kuwait. It was a kick ass mission and since the United Nations didn’t authorize removing Saddam and because President George H.W. Bush was smart enough to not to drive on Baghdad to kick him out preferring the despot we knew to a quagmire Saddam was left in power.

So we stationed ground and air forces around the Gulf to keep Saddam and Iran in check and even put them in Saudi Arabia which a large number of radicals such as Osama Bin Laden equated to letting the Devil play in Allah’s Holy Sandbox.  So Osama went and set up a base with the Medieval bunch of Pashtun known as the Taliban in Afghanistan stirred up a bunch of shit killing Americans and blowing up stuff including the World Trade Center in 1993, the Khobar Towers barracks complex in 1996, the USS Cole in 2000 and then 2001 another attack on the World Trade Center which took down the towers with hijacked aircraft and also struck the Pentagon triggered an American response against Bin Laden and his Taliban hosts.  The United States then invaded in Iraq in 2003 and succeeded in taking out Saddam but also succeeded in alienating a good many Iraqis who greeted us with open arms because we goofed up the occupation and pissed a lot of them off by dissolving the Army, Police and Civil Service and letting thugs and opportunists take over. Unfortunately since we didn’t go in with enough troops to secure all the Iraqi bases, their weapons depots and actually take control of surrendering Iraqi units these newly unemployed and dishonored people launched an insurgency bolstered by Al Qaeda and other foreign fighters even as Sunni and Shi’a Moslems began to settle scores with each other. Insurgency and civil war, two great tastes that go great together, but what the heck right?

Of course it took years to get control of the situation on the ground and thankfully the United States forces in Iraq were helped when the Sunni Moslems in Al Anbar Province realized that these foreign fighters were a worse enemy than the United States and switched sides. This turned the tables in Iraq and the insurgency was brought under control and an elected government managed to start to get their stuff together and allow us to begin withdrawing from Iraq. Of course the focus on Iraq gave the Taliban a chance to regroup as the Afghani Government proved itself corrupt, incompetent and not to give a shit about the Afghani people. So the Taliban who had been hated made a comeback and made our lives much harder so that now almost 10 years into the fight we are having a really hard time.  Well enough about us there was plenty more going on in the Muddle East besides the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Let’s see….there was the law of unintended consequences in that by taking Saddam Down and weakening Iraq we took away Iran’s natural enemy and the key to the balance of power in the region. Iran was strengthened and began a nuclear program that everyone with half a brain knows in intended for military use and expanded its influence in Lebanon where the Iranian backed Hezbollah took power.  Now Hezbollah which actually has an experienced military force and probably owns 40,000 or so rockets and missiles a good number of which can hit deep in Israel seems to be ready for war especially because they fought the Israelis to a stalemate in 2008, the first time an Arab military ever did that. Not only did they take on the Israelis but they are also helping Syrian dictator Bashir Assad turn the tide against the polyglot Syrian rebel forces which are being assisted by Sunni foreign fighters from all over the Middle East and the ever present Al Qaida presence.

Then was the effect that the wars in those countries made things harder for us in many other friendly Arab nations.  Of course there is the problem of a nuclear armed Pakistan which is about as stable as a Japanese nuclear reactor after getting hit by a tsunami and plays both sides of the street in the war on terror.  The Palestinians and Israelis continued their love affair and since Fatah which ran Palestinian Authority was so corrupt and gooned up a more militant group, Hamas took power in the Gaza strip. Hamas is a pretty bloodthirsty lot too but not the same level of threat as Hezbollah to the Israelis.  Of course the Israelis have done little to help the situation by their often heavy handed treatment of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.

The witches’ cauldron of the Muddle East is getting even more muddled on a daily basis as young Arabs throughout the Muddle East are rising up against their despotic rulers and it doesn’t seem that any are safe, those allied with the United States and the West as well as those that have been a thorn in the side of the United States and the West. It just seems that despots and tyrants are no longer in vogue. The uprisings began in Iran after a disputed election where reformers were cheated of power and the revolt crushed by the Revolutionary Guard and other thugs of the Iranian regime. However with the election of “moderate” whatever that means cleric Hasan Rowhani as President hopes are that Iran, despite the machinations of many other clerics and the Revolutionary Guard might be brought to the negotiating table. That being said Iran is reportedly sending about 4000 troops to go help Assad in Syria so go figure.

Elsewhere in the Middle East things continue to boil. In December 2010 the people of Tunisia rose up and overthrew their President for Life Ben Ali in a peaceful uprising followed shortly after by the Egyptians who tossed out long term President and U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak. In Tunisia a “moderate Islamist” regime has been attempting to maintain control of radicals and keep some semblance of balance in that country while in Egypt the Islamic Brotherhood was able to get majorities elected in the Parliament and elect Mohammed Morsi as President. Needless to say both countries are still in turmoil.

In Iraq the Sunni Shi’a divide is as wide as ever and that country is threatening to become engulfed in yet another civil war as sectarian violence increases and the Kurds make more moves toward independence.

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Turkey, the heart of the old Ottoman Empire is now beginning to erupt as secularist elements in the society are protesting the policies of Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan leading to repeated clashes over the past two weeks between protestors and police.

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Afghanistan though technically not part of the Middle East continues to be a problem for US and NATO consuming intelligence, economic diplomatic and military resources that could be put to play with better effect elsewhere.  What T.E. Lawrence said of the British occupation of a restive Mesopotamia  in 1920:

“We realise the burden the army in Mesopotamia is to the Imperial Exchequer, but we do not see as clearly the burden it is to Mesopotamia. It has to be fed, and all its animals have to be fed. The fighting forces are now eighty-three thousand strong, but the ration strength is three hundred thousand. There are three labourers to every soldier, to supply and serve him.” ‘France, Britain, and the Arabs’ by Col. T. E. Lawrence The Observer, 8 August 1920

In Libya the Arab Spring claimed the long time pain in the ass Moammar Gaddafi. That conflict center of the action in 2011 until Gaddafi was overthrown and murdered. Since then Libya has remained in turmoil despite elections, militias run amok and the US Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in an attack on the US Consulate and CIA base in Benghazi on September 11th 2012.

Yemen and Bahrain, Algeria, and Jordan have or are experiencing demonstrations which look to be revolts in the making and even Saudi Arabia is trying to head off a potential popular uprising.

However the real problem now, the problem that threatens to send the region into a regional war is the revolt in Syria which began with peaceful protests by reformers against the Assad regime. However the hard line response of that regime to the protests spawned a civil war which now threatens to overflow the borders of Syria. France, Britain and the US have stated that they believe that there is evidence that the Syria government has used chemical weapons, in particular Sarin nerve agents against the rebels. The conflict has claimed the lives of an estimated 80,000 people with hundreds of thousands more now living as refugees.

The conflict in Syria epitomizes one of the greatest challenges in the Middle East that many in the West are just beginning to recognize, the Sunni Shi’a divide. That divide is becoming more serious with every passing day as Iran continues to lead and assist Shi’a elements in predominantly Sunni Arab countries, as well as in Iraq where the Arab Shi’a are in the majority. The conflict in Syria is predominantly Sunni versus Shi’a though in that patchwork nation of Sunni, Shi’a, Alawite Shi’a tribe of the Assad clan, various Christian and Druse groups. Lebanon which borders Syria is as divided as its larger neighbor and Hezbollah holds tremendous power in that country.

Yes my friends this is a mess and almost everybody that is anybody in the military and economic power houses of the world doesn’t have their handprints all over at least some part of this mess. All of these own some of the blame for what is going on, both the rulers of the nations in the region as well as world powers who all try to influence the nations and peoples for their own diplomatic, intelligence, military or economic gain. Almost no one is unsoiled by their involvement in the Muddle East over the past 90 years or so and so in a way all of great world powers, as well as the despots who ran these countries are to blame.

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The region is more volatile than at any time in recent history and events there could easily ignite a regional war with worldwide implications.  That is why the region has been called the Muddle East for decades.  We all hope and pray for the best and that somehow all of this that the promise of a peaceful and democratic “Arab Spring” will become a reality, but there are better than even odds that things get way worse before they get better. There are just too many wild cards in this deck and the swamp is full of hungry alligators.

With the announcement this week that the US would provide military aid and training to the Syrian rebels and that US forces will remain in Jordan even as US and NATO Patriot missile batteries stand ready in Turkey there is a really good chance that the conflict in Syria will not stay in Syria.

Of course there is always the wild card if what Israel may do in what it perceives to be its security interests against outward foes such as Iran and Syria but also inside its borders and occupied territories, especially if it is attacked or provoked by Iran, Hezbollah or Hamas.

May God help us all and bring about peaceful change, or as my Iraqi friends simply say “Inshallah, God willing.”

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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Why the Libyans were able to Overthrow Gaddafi and what We can learn from It: A Lesson from the work of T E Lawrence

T E Lawrence

“Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them. Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is.” T. E. Lawrence

Lawrence with Arab fighters at Aqaba and Emir Faisal Hussein (below)

The Libyan revolution succeeded in overthrowing Moammar Gaddafi and his 42 year tyranny because the West did not turn it into an American or NATO war. By limiting involvement to airpower, coastal interdiction and tiny numbers of advisers the United States and NATO avoided the costly trap of putting large numbers of troops on the ground.  Such action would have been counterproductive in Libya and in the Arab world. While the action certainly would have ridded the world of Gaddafi and his regime much more quickly it would have emasculated the Libyans who had taken up arms against Gaddafi by turning it into our war, a war which would have been seen by many Libyans and Arabs as just more Western Imperialism.  Critics can always find fault in any military operation but for once in the Post Cold War era the United States and NATO knew their limitations and that the revolution had to be the work of the Libyans themselves.

Lawrence and Hussein’s troops pass Ottoman prisoners at Damascus in 1918

T E Lawrence understood the Arab mind more than most westerners ever will.  Living with and helping lead the Arab tribes that revolted against the Ottoman Empireduring the First World War he learned the culture as well as came to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the Arab tribes.  One thing that can be said is that most Americans like many of Lawrence’s counterparts in the British political leadership, military and diplomatic services is that far too few have taken the time to either understand or respect the Arabs. When I was in Iraq the senior Iraqi Officers that I met were amazed and impressed that I knew their history and culture because so few people did. When I mentioned their victory at Al Kut Amara, or their capture of the Al Faw peninsula at the end of the Iran-Iraq war they beamed with pride.

Ottoman troops in Mesopotamia 

One of the things that Lawrence understood was the profound sense of personal pride and honor which imbued the Bedouin.  He understood that the various Bedouin tribes had no love for the Ottoman Turks who treated them with distain.  He also understood that they needed to be the ones that defeated the Turks.

The campaign waged by Lawrence and the Bedouin confounded the Turks. Working with Emir Faisal the son of Sherif  Hussein of Mecca he convinced his force of Arab irregulars not to make a direct assault on the city of Medina which was heavily garrisoned by the Turks.  Instead he expanded the battlefield by exploiting the natural weakness of the Turks, the need for constant supply via the Hejaz Railway.  In doing so he tied up large numbers of Ottoman troops that could have been used against the forces of General Allenby that were waging a conventional campaign and which was very successful in defeating the Ottomans.

While Lawrence was a part of a much larger effort his work in helping the Arab revolt was of great importance to the success of the British efforts against the Ottomans.  Unfortunately the good will that Lawrence and others like him built did not last. The British and French governments did not respect treaties that supported Arab independence and instead dividing the region between them under the terms of the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement. They left an isolated and abandoned Hashamite kingdom in the Hejaz which was conquered by the Saudis to whom the British had shifted their support.

British prisoners at Kut al Amara

A few hundred miles away the British did not take advantage of indigenous Arab resentment of the Ottomans in Mesopotamia.  The British invaded Mesopotamiain 1914 expecting to defeat the Turks easily.  However the British did precious little to enlist the support or help the Iraqi Arabs.  The campaign was long and included the worst defeat of a British Army during the war at the Siege of Kut Al Amara in 1916 at the hands of a largely Iraqi Ottoman 6th Army.  Some 30,000 British and Indian soldiers were killed or died of disease and 13,000 captured many who did not survive captivity.  After the war Lawrence remarked “The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information.”

Faisal would go on to be elected as the new Kingdom of Syria by the Syrian National Congress in March of 1920 but kicked out by the French who enforced the Mandate of Syria in July.  In 1922 after the British brutally suppressed an Iraqi independence movement they appointed Faisal as the King of Iraq. When the British “gave” the Iraqis their independence in 1932 Faisal was the head of state.  He died in 1933 and the British maintained a tight grip on the country and put down another Iraqi nationalist revolt led by the Army in 1941.  The British would remain in Iraq until 1958 when a military coup which is known as the “14 July Revolution” overthrew the government and killed king Faisal II.

Libya Rebels

In Libya there was great temptation and political pressure for the United States to begin an early air campaign without significant support in the international community.  Some say that this caused more casualties and suffering for the Libyans, but it helped in the long run because Libyans saw it as their war to win even when NATO began its air campaign against Gaddafi.  The air campaign was a great help to the newly proclaimed National Transitional Council in Benghazi and probably saved them from being defeated but it was the courage of Libyans on the ground who sacrificed themselves against a better armed and trained force to retake the country.

The revolt restored the pride of an oppressed people, something that could not have taken place had the campaign been led by the United States and NATO with boots on the ground.  People forget that in 2003 the majority of Iraqis welcomed US forces as liberators.  This lasted until Paul Bremer unilaterally dissolved Iraqi military, police and civil servants that were actively helping us, turning them into enemies overnight.  The liberated Iraqis felt betrayed and dishonored by the United States just as they had been by the British following the First World War.  Bremer did this without ensuring that the Iraqi Army weapons depots were secure thereby providing Sunni and Shia insurgents with vast amounts of weapons.  These weapons were turned against American and coalition soldiers and even the UN and NGOs which were just beginning to helpIraqrebuild.  The result of Bremer’s was a protracted insurgency and civil which cost us nearly 4500 soldiers killed and over 32000 wounded and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, wounded or displaced.  If one wants an answer as to why the Iraqis rose up against the United States occupation in late 2003 they need to look no farther than this. The Iraqis only want to be independent and saw the Bremer’s actions in the lens of their history with the British.

The author with Iraqi General Sabah Ramadi 2007

The decision of President Obama, French President Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Cameron to work through the UN and NATO was the correct one. It enabled the Libyans to overthrow Gaddafi and it kept our military involvement to a minimum.  While it cannot be a template for all future military operations in the Arab world as every Arab country is different it does have lessons for us. Libya was a perfect place to use this method. It had a population that wanted Gaddafi gone and were willing to die trying to overthrow him.  It had no huge urban population centers teaming with uneducated and poverty stricken people with little hope.  It has substantial oil wealth and an oil infrastructure which unlike Iraq was not destroyed during the war or in bad repair due to years of sanctions. It also enjoyed a key geographic location which made NATO air intervention much easier than almost anywhere in the Middle East because we did not need bases in Libya or its neighbors to run the operation. It was conducted from Europe and platforms at sea.   This is not possible in most other Arab countries. The task would be much more difficult if the target was Syria.

Now is the time to help the Libyans in rebuilding their country and letting them continue to regain their pride by letting them do as much as possible.  They won’t do it the way we would but that is okay. They will make mistakes but given time the people that shed their blood together to rid themselves of Gaddafi can work together to build a free country.  Those that go to Libya to assist the Libyans need to keep this in mind if they really want to see a strong, robust and successful Libyan democracy take hold.  Let’s also make sure that the good feelings that the Libyans have for us now remain by simply treating them as we would like to be treated.  Simply put we have to stop treating them as vassal states that we only value for their natural resources while we disrespect their people, history and culture.

As for the future it would be a wise investment to ensure that diplomatic, military and NGO personnel be trained and educated to understand and appreciate the Arabs and other cultures that are different than ours in the West.  The West has much to overcome in its relationship with the Arabs most of which is self inflicted. But we can try to start again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Gaddafi is Dead so what happens Now?

“We announce to the world that Qaddafi has been killed at the hands of the revolution. It is a historic moment. It is the end of tyranny and dictatorship. Qaddafi has met his fate.” Abdel Hafez Ghoga, spokesman for the National Transitional Council

Note: This article contains graphic images of Gaddafi’s body. They may not be suitable for all readers.

The Arab Spring gained new momentum today with the killing of Moammar Gaddafi by forces loyal to the National Transitional Council. The NTC had captured Tripoli in August and the former dictator had been on the run attempting to rally loyalists to help him regain power.  His efforts were in vain. The NTC forces which are best described as a collection of irregular forces rather than a real army continued to gain territory and liberate cities which had been terrorized by Gaddafi’s forces.

Gaddafi was killed today while he and close advisors were attempting to flee Sirte his hometown which was in the process of  falling to NTC forces.  Reports are sketchy but his convoy appeared to be hit by French Jets and American Predator drones  killing many of his loyalists.  Gaddafi reportedly was wounded but escaped to hide in a drainage ditch tunnel.  He was later captured by pursuing NTC forces, captured and reportedly died of his wounds after his capture.  The circumstances of his death are unclear some say that the vehicle that he was being transported in was caught in a crossfire and other reports indicate that he may have been summarily executed by his captors.  Pictures of his body seem to show a bullet wound in his forehead, one in his left arm and several just below his sternum.

Along those killed with Gaddafi was his Defense Minister Abu Bakr Yunis Jabr, head of Intelligence Services Abdullah al-Senussi and his son Muatassim and other loyalists who were killed during or following a firefight with NTC forces.  Another report by Al Arabya News says that one of their reporters in Sirte has confirmed that Saif-Al Islam Gaddafi is also dead.

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2011/10/20111020111520869621.html

Gaddafi wounded and still alive (above) after his capture and his corpse below

 

The death of Gaddafi ends a 42 year reign of terror in Libyaand of Gaddafi’s support for terrorism and terrorist organizations. Among those terrorist acts included the downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland on December 21st 1988 killing all 270 souls aboard and the April 5th 1986 bombing of the West Berlin nightclub La Belle which killed 3 people and wounded 230. The latter was directed at US Army soldiers that frequented the club.  He trained and supported tyrants in Sierra Leone and Liberia who killed hundreds of thousands of people.  Tens of thousands of Libyans died at his hand.

Despite this Libya faces difficulties.  Tribal, ideological, economic and political rivalries long contained and suppressed are showing. The Misrata Council in the West does not recognize the NTC despite the latter group’s recognition by governments around the world.  There are tensions between those of a more secular democratic view and Islamists so it remains to be seen what Libya will evolve or devolve into over the coming weeks, months and years.

The killing of Gaddafi is likely to have broad repercussions throughout the Middle East and may further encourage the now months long revolts against Yemen’s long term dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh and Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad.  Other regimes could face uprising and there is potential for the Arab Spring to inspire those in other nations who feel oppressed or that have real or imagined grievances against their governments or those that they see as the real power brokers in their lands.

Bashar Al Assad and Ali Abdullah Saleh…are they next?

Since war, economic crisis and perceived inequities between the rich and the poor are fertile ground for such movements it is my belief that the Arab Spring is helping to usher in a new era of revolution around the world such as not been seen since 1918 and the overthrow of long established governments and the collapse of empires which lasted until the 1960s.  The world is still shaped by those events.

As Alexis de Tocqueville said “In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end.”

As I said a few days ago this is a time of promise and peril. But for now we can rejoice for the people of Libya as they begin a new chapter in their history.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Foreign Policy, History, middle east

Gaddafi’s Götterdämmerung: The End in Tripoli

A rebel fighter destroys a poster of Gaddafi found in the administration centre after rebels seized full control of Az-Zawiyah [Bob Strong/Reuters]

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2011/08/201182122425905430.html

It appears that the end is near if it has not already come for the regime of Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi.  After nearly six months of civil war in which a rag tag coalition of rebels aided by NATO airpower, Special Forces and intelligence agencies has reduced Gaddafi’s zone of control to the Bab Al-Aziziya-Jazeera stronghold.Green Squarethe center of many pro-Gaddafi rallies since the beginning of the uprising is now decked out in the pre-Gaddafi flag that has served as a unifying symbol for the rebels who span the spectrum from pro-Western democrats to Islamists as rebels and residents of Tripoli celebrated together amid rifle fire.

Zeina Khodr, Al Jazeera’s correspondent, said from the Green Square: “There’s a party in the Libyan capital tonight. The people are in charge of the city. They’ve decided the square is now called Martyr’s Square, the original name. They’re shouting ‘we’re free’ and shooting at a poster of Gaddafi.”

The regime began to collapse this week as rebels captured the key western city of Az Zawiyah and rapidly advanced from the west into Tripoli gaining its outskirts by Saturday even as other rebel forces advanced from the south and east, a move that Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice-chairman of the NTC said “There is co-ordination with the rebels in Tripoli. This was a pre-set plan. They’ve been preparing for a while. There’s co-ordination with the rebels approaching from the east, west and south.”  As they did most military resistance by pro-Gaddafi forces began to collapse.  There are reports that the unit in charge of Gaddafi’s security has went over to the rebels with its commander instructing his soldiers to “lay down their arms.”  The rebel forces also overran a key Libyan Army base which was the home of the Khamis Brigade named for his youngest son Khamis who serves as its commander.

The government of neighboring Tunisia has recognized the Nation Transitional Council as the legitimate government ofLibyaon Saturday joining a number of western nations in doing so.

The International Criminal Court has confirmed that Gaddafi’s son Saif Al-Islam and his brother Saadi have been captured by rebel “Special Forces.”  Saif who has been the face of the regime for much of the rebellion was indicted with his father and the head of the State Intelligence Chief earlier in the year for the ruthless crackdown on Libya’s “Arab Spring” demonstrators was captured very early Monday morning inTripoli.   SkyNews has reported that the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court told CNN that talks will be held with the Rebel National Transitional Council about transferring Saif toThe Hague.

Another report through Al Jazeera reported that another of Gaddafi’s son’s Mohammed cut off an interview after gunfire was heard telling the reporter “I..I… I am being attacked right now…inside, inside my house, inside.” According to Al Jazeera he refused to surrender, his guards shot at rebels. One rebel was killed and one bodyguard was injured and that he and his family are “safe” but Mohammed has confirmed to Al Jazeera TV that he “has been detained and is under house arrest.” Mohammed said in the interview “I’ve never been a government or security official; however I can tell you the absence of wisdom and foresight is what brought us to here today. Our differences could have been solved easily.”

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said “We are still very strong. We have thousands and thousands of fighters who have nowhere to go but to fight.”  He also claimed that 65,000 “professional soldiers” were ready to defeat the rebels.  Despite this there are reports that defecting Libyan soldiers are now clashing with the loyalists and African mercenaries that remain.  The TNC admits that it does not yet completely control the city but is working on it.

As for Gaddafi himself there are some reports that he has fled even as he announced that he would not go into exile and said “We will fight to the last drop of blood,” he said. “We will never give up.”  I his radio address Sunday night Gaddafi appeared to be begging for help from the people of Tripoli.

You You !
Come out of your houses and do this !
That is your duty !
Death or Life !
Come on, swarm the city of
Tripoli !
From the inside and from the outside !
The women, who had weapon training, come out with her weapons!
You are all armed in the city of
Tripoli
There is no excuse, just come out !
The collaborators of occupation are very small groups
How can you allow
Tripoli, capital of Lybia, to fall under occupation another time, after the Revolution and Liberation and… ?
How can an armed population allow a handful of mercenaries, of traitors, of rats to open the way to occupation in the city of Tripoli
That is unacceptable
This is, this is dangerous
Tripoli burned and became like Baghdad, what is our excuse, why ?
The
Tripoli that was safe and beautiful
What became of her when they made it a war zone?”

The situation is rapidly changing and at times chaotic.  As in every revolution there is turmoil and it I am sure that there will still be some heavy fighting as loyalists aided by African mercenaries hired by Gaddafi continue the fight.  The rebels themselves are not well organized but have the advantage of momentum and apparently the support of many citizens inTripoli.  The fact that three of Gaddafi’s sons are now prisoners and that no major units of the Libyan Army appear to be intact indicates that Gaddafi’s regime is on its last legs. Despite this the rebels are preparing for more battles with Gaddafi supporters who they think will attempt to retake Green Square which has been renamed by the rebels “Martyr’s Square.”

What will come next is uncertain.  The rebels represent various factions and many are Libyan expatriates who have returned to oust Gaddafi including a good number from the United States.  In the mix are pro-Western democrats, Islamists, Socialists and others. Some represent the NTC while others represent tribes opposed to Gaddafi and some may be affiliated with Al Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups.  The problem is that the Libyan people, despite their passion for their country have no experience in governing and with the exception of expatiates from the United States and Western European countries no experience in democracy.  Thus when Gaddafi is finally overthrown the fate of Lybia and its people will be uncertain.  NATO has offered assistance and support to a post Gaddafi Libya. Likewise we have to wonder how this will impact the rest of the region in the coming months.

President Obama stated that the “United States will continue to work with partners to protect people of Libya and support shift to democracy” and that “Gaddafi needs to acknowledge the reality that he no longer controls Libya. He needs to relinquish power once and for all.”

The real question now is where Gaddafi is and what will happen to him?  I do not suspect that he will be able to escape at this point with a no-fly zone and with rebels in control of all major routes in and out of Tripoli if he did not make his way out of the city before Sunday.  If he is able to make his way to a country willing to shelter him is hard to say, however if the rebels catch him the question is will he fight to the death or will he surrender?

There will certainly be more to follow and Lord knows what will happen.  We can all pray for the best even as the rebels continue to liberate their country and President Obama and NATO leaders continue to work with the TNC. As my Iraqi friends say “Inshallah.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

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