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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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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.

Free Syrian Army soldiers in Idlib

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 Primer on the Muddle East

“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

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 Mujahedeen.

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 depot we knew to a quagmire despite Saddam’s crimes against his own people who thought we would help them.  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 last year.  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.

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. But then 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.

This brought about spontaneous uprisings all over the Middle East with Libya and the long time pain in the ass Muammar Gaddafi being the current center of the action. However Yemen and Bahrain both are in trouble, Algeria, Jordan and Syria 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.

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 world powers, as well as the despots who ran these countries are to blame.

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 will bring about a peaceful and democratic “Arab Spring” 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.

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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Damned if you do and Damned if you Don’t: The Allied Intervention in Libya

Libyan Rebels gather around a destroyed T-72 outside Benghazi

War is the unfolding of miscalculations.
Barbara Tuchman

Back on the 9th of March I wrote this closing line to an article entitled The Guns of March where I discussed the developing situation in Libya and the really terrible options that world and regional leaders had in response to Muammar Gaddafi’s criminal actions against his own people. I concluded that article with this statement.

There are many possibilities for the situation in Libya to get worse and potentially engulf the region in a war that no one wants or really is prepared for.

We can only see what develops but there are no good options only options of bad or worse. Will the region like Europe in 1914 be engulfed in war where there are no winners or will somehow the situation be resolved before it can get that far?”

It is obvious to all that the region stands a very good chance of becoming engulfed in a regional war unless the rebels drive Gaddafi from power, Gaddafi steps down on his own or he is killed or captured. Gaddafi has promised a “long war” against the “colonial and crusader” enemy.

Gaddafi Defiant

In the days since I wrote the referenced article the Arab League spoke up in support of establishing a no-fly zone and the United Nations Security Council voted for member nations to enforce a no-fly zone and take “all necessary measures” in order to stop Gaddafi’s forces attacks on other Libyans. By the time the Security Council acted Gaddafi’s forces had retaken many rebel held cities inflicting great slaughter on civilians and were on the outskirts of the rebel capital Benghazi with Gaddafi threatening to send his forces “house to house” to kill the opposition and promising to show no mercy.  Within a day French and British aircraft were flying missions and striking the spearhead of Gaddafi’s forces outside of Benghazi and United States Navy ships were launching Tomahawk Cruise Missiles at the Libyan air defense system. They were joined by aircraft from the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force as well as Canada, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Norway, Denmark and Qatar.  Gaddafi’s forces were decimated outside of Benghazi and forced to retreat and a renewed rebel force, this time acting more like a military organization began a pursuit which has reached Ajdabiya.  In the west Gaddafi’s forces continue to attack the towns of Misrata and Zintan and according to observers and medical personnel inflicting heavy casualties on civilians.

President Obama in a briefing

Around the world there is much criticism of the operation as well as support. In the United States representatives as diverse as Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich are raising concerns on the Constitutional issues of the intervention in that President Obama did not secure the approval of Congress prior to sending American forces into battle. Kucinich even calls it an impeachable offense.  Likewise a diverse assembly of politicians, former military and executive branch officials including those with experience at the State Department, the United Nations, NATO and the Middle East are voicing their concerns about the fact that the end state of the operation is not defined and about the possibility of mission creep. The administration has not helped matters in sending a number of messages over the past few days of a desired end state. It is obvious that President Obama did not want this fight nor did he want it to appear that we were again leading an attack on an Arab nation.  His hesitancy has led to some conservatives attacking his lack of decisiveness even as other conservatives criticize his decision to join the military operations. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has been outspoken in his opposition to becoming involved in another war and seems to want U.S. involvement to decrease sooner rather than later.

Rebels with damaged 152mm Self Propelled Howitzer

The situation is still evolving by the hour and one thing is clear. The outcome is very unclear and the repercussions across the region are also uncertain. One problem is the apparent discontinuity in U.S. and Western policy to various despotic Arab regimes, supporting the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, a military operation against Gaddafi in Libya and very muted and lukewarm support to popular political movements in Bahrain and Yemen. The Bahraini demonstrations have been put down with the help of Saudi forces but in Yemen numerous influential military officers have taken their units to support the Yemeni protestors. Of course the situation in all of these nations is different with the exception of the fact that all are ruled by long term undemocratic and repressive regimes of varying degree. Likewise actors in each country are different as are the geo-political interests of the United States.

A friend of mine pointed out to me that we are not viewed as “the good guys” in much of the Arab World as much as we see ourselves as such. I think that is true to a large extent because of foreign policy choices of the past century in regard to the Arab World as well as the past decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan where even today photos taken by a rogue Army unit of soldiers posing with the mutilated and dead bodies enemies of the enemy further degrade opinion in the region against us.  But we are also the hope of many of those in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other nations and in those places and others popular uprisings have called out to us for political support and in the case of the Libyans military protection.

Parallels of 1989 in the fall of the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe are drawn by the optimistic observers of what has been called the “Arab Spring.” However as much as I would like to believe that this is the case I think the miscalculations of 1914 are more readily apparent. There is nothing simple about what is going on and it seems to me that the region is sinking into a war with very unpredictable and grave consequences. Those consequences will probably with us for a generation was were the unanticipated outcomes of the First World War. Of course one of those outcomes was the breakup of the Ottoman Empire and the arbitrary redrawing of boundaries and selection of leaders in the newly created Arab nations and emirates by the victorious Allies. That is something that we are dealing with even as I finish this article.

As I wrote in another article I believe that acting to prevent the slaughter of Libyans by Gaddafi was the right thing to do.  Unfortunately as most observers know the people of Libya will not be safe unless Gaddafi leaves power. I think by backing Gaddafi into a corner early, even before he began his offensive against what were peaceful protestors and not giving him a face saving way out that we may have brought about a war that no one wanted and has few possible good endings. We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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All necessary Measures….the Coming End of the Gaddafi Regime

Gaddafi (Reuters photo)

After weeks of dithering the United Nations Security Council has authorized a “No Fly Zone” and authorized “all necessary measures” to protect civilians from the onslaught of Muammar Gaddafi’s military.  The vote came after days of urging by the French, British, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab League and belatedly the United States. The vote of 10 for and 5 abstentions authorizes member nations to act together to protect civilians in Libya and comes as Gaddafi has threatened to attack the rebel capital of Benghazi and to “show no mercy” in doing so. Gaddafi responded to the vote by proclaiming “The UN Security Council has no mandate. We don’t acknowledge their resolutions” and he promised to respond harshly to any UN-sponsored attacks stating “If the world is crazy, we will be crazy too.”

While Gaddafi pledged to mount an attack against Benghazi tonight his forces were repulsed for the first time by rebel forces at Ajdabiya with the rebels using tanks and artillery of their own for the first time. Gaddafi’s air force launched attacks on Benghazi but it is my assessment that these strikes were to instill terror in the civilian population and break the back of rebel supporters. His announcement that his forces were coming “tonight” was obviously a propaganda claim.

It is true that the situation on the ground has shifted in favor of Gaddafi’s forces and that they have enjoyed a run of success over the past week and a half. However the success is illusory as it came at the expense of ill equipped and trained rebel forces in the western part of the country near the main operating bases of the forces that Gaddafi has employed with the greatest effect. Likewise his success east of his tribal home of Sirte has come against rebel forces which had advanced too far and had neither the training or firepower to hold the ground that they had taken. Deployed on open ground with no air support they were no match for Gaddafi’s forces. The further east Gaddafi’s forces go the more that they will face military forces which went over to the rebels, forces that will do better than those in the west and this was evident today at Ajdalbiya.

The repulse at Ajdabiya is significant and more significant than some people will believe. Gaddafi’s Army is now operation far from their home bases and the trek across the Libyan Desert is probably facing logistical problems. The first is that they have had to advance hundreds of miles. His armored forces are probably not well maintained and likely are experiencing mechanical difficulties especially since logistic support in most of the Arab World’s militaries is not a high priority. Lacking skilled mechanics and technical personnel they have probably lost a good number of vehicles. Photos of Libyan forces show no military cargo trucks accompanying the Army which indicates to me that the pro-Gaddafi forces are operating at the edge of their logistical support system.  Anyone who has operated in a dessert war can testify to this fact. Should the rebels yield to him at Ajdabiya they will fall back to far more defensible terrain to the southwest of Benghazi, the heavily forested and mountainous uplands of the Jebel Akhdar which would even the playing field in favor of the rebels who until now have been fighting in open terrain which would even the playing field.  To further help the rebels the first confirmed shipments of Egyptian arms have reached rebel forces.

Another component to the story is that Gaddafi’s forces are divided. He has a significant number of troops attempting to overcome rebel forces at the town of Zindan about 120 kilometers southwest of Tripoli.  These forces are operating in a region less hospitable than those near Ajdabiya but because they are closer to their supply base have a better chance of success than those in the east.

However all of this goes away once the airstrikes from American, French, British and Arab air forces start pounding his exposed forces at Ajdabiya. These forces are operating outside of the range of the Libyan air defense network. What little anti-aircraft capability they have will not protect them against modern air forces. As soon as Gaddafi’s tanks and APCs start getting “brewed up” by air attacks the forces manning them will give up the fight.  Likewise the air defenses that Gaddafi has in his arsenal are antiquated and no match for what will be coming after them. The fact is that many of the officers in command of these forces only stayed loyal because it appeared that the world would not stand up to Gaddafi and until today they were correct. This marriage of convenience will end once the bombs start falling.

What looked like a certain victory for Gaddafi will disappear as fast as a mirage in the Libyan Desert. At some point the officers that had reluctantly supported Gaddafi will turn against him as they would have weeks ago had the actions of world leaders matched their words. There will not be a need for ground troops and thankfully the U.N. authorization does not authorize occupation.  The Libyan’s military and people knowing that Gaddafi stands alone will topple his ruthless regime on their own and because the west, led by the French acted to support them Al Qaeda and its allies who were hoping to commandeer this revolt will be left in the dust. As for Gaddafi he will be luck not to avoid the fate of another dictator who ruled Libya, Italy’s Benito Mussolini and end up handing from a meat hook.

Of course I could be wrong, but I expect that within a week the situation which looked so bleak for the rebels will look very different and Gaddafi will be fighting not for the survival of his regime but for his life. But it has to go down this way. Neither Egypt Tunisia nor Europe can handle the influx of refugees should Gaddafi survive. They all have a vested interest in stopping Gaddafi now as do we as we cannot let Gaddafi remain in control and turn Libya into a haven for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

One can hope that the carnage in Libya will end soon and that something of a democratic and peace minded Libya will be the result.  Somehow I think that there is a chance for this now.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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The Guns of March

“War is the unfolding of miscalculations” Barbara Tuchman

Libya Revolt (Al Jazeera)

In 1914 an assassination in Bosnia-Herzegovina led to the First World War. In 2011 a civil war in Libya may lead to the destabilization of an entire region and to a regional conflict. A few weeks ago many thought that Libya would take the same course as Egypt and Tunisia. That was before Muammar Gaddafi began to launch an organized campaign of slaughter against his own people using members of his clan as well as African, Arab and Eastern European mercenaries.  Now we wonder what will happen as many actors try to discern courses of action praying that their calculations are correct.

Defecting Libyan Soldiers with protesters (AFP Photo)

If we look at the players we see the Gaddafi clan and its allies who include mercenaries from Africa, other Middle Eastern nations and Eastern Europe battling in a life or death struggle with a disparate and not yet very organized revolutionary movement which has taken many key cities in Libya. Gaddafi’s forces have become quite brutal in their response even as Gaddafi denies attacking his own people and appear in some places to be gaining the upper hand. The rebels have a limited amount of arms and ammunition and few heavy weapons but have given a good account of themselves against Gaddafi’s forces.

The USS Enterprise CVN-65

The United States is really too heavily committed to do much and even if NATO and or the UN agree to establish a no-fly zone over Libya it is doubtful if it will do much to much good on the ground against Gaddafi’s mercenary army and party thugs.  President Obama has asked Saudi Arabia to help arm the rebels and the Saudis and the Gulf Cooperation Council states have asked the United States and NATO to establish a no fly zone to at least protect the rebels from Gaddafi’s helicopter gunships and attack aircraft. Gaddafi has stated that such a no-fly zone would be an act of war.

The words of Western leaders to include President Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and France’s Nicholas Sarkozy announcing that Gaddafi has to step down has hardened Gaddafi’s resolve and have whether we want it or not signaled that we are about to engage in another war. Military forces from NATO including the USS Enterprise Carrier Battle Group are being moved to positions that they can either enforce a no-fly zone or assist in humanitarian operations.

While the West debates what to do the fighting continues and Gaddafi’s military unhindered by anyone continues its attacks others in the region seek to gain from the Chaos. Syria has been supporting the Gaddafi regime and it is likely that Iran is seeking to gain more influence in Arab countries that have been hostile to it.  The presence of the two Iranian warships in the Eastern Mediterranean added to the tensions but those ships have now returned to the Red Sea after passing through the Suez Canal after exercises with the Syrians.

Refugee Crisis (AP Photo)

The fact is that this is a chaotic and ever changing situation. NATO will meet on Thursday to discuss possible courses of action.  Adding to the crisis is the specter of NATO’s abysmally slow response to the Bosnia crisis as well as the United Nation’s, American and European response to the Rwandan genocide. Since the ongoing battle in Libya to include Gaddafi’s slaughter of his own people and the massive refugee crisis on Libya’s borders is televised like the previous crises is in Bosnia and Rwanda Western Leaders are caught in a bind. They can turn a blind eye and chose to let the rebels die on the vine attempting to overthrow Gaddafi and be accused of ignoring crimes against humanity as were their predecessors during the Bosnian and Rwandan events.

There are many possibilities for the situation in Libya to get worse and potentially engulf the region in a war that no one wants or really is prepared for.

We can only see what develops but there are no good options only options of bad or worse. Will the region like Europe in 1914 be engulfed in war where there are no winners or will somehow the situation be resolved before it can get that far? Those are very real questions.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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