Thursday, March 31, 2011

Working from the same playbook?

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's speech to his nation last night was taken right out of the same playbook that other Middle Eastern leaders have tried using.  I think people throughout the Middle East are sick and tired of hearing the same old lies and won't stand for it any more.  Reshuffling governments, firing ministers, setting up committee's to study issues... all of this is nothing more than rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  These strategies have been unsuccessful in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere so I see no reason why they will be effective in quelling Syria's unrest.

Reminds me of this:

The truth is out there and there is no way to stop it from getting to the people once you allow even the slightest bit of information in.  Gaddafi's spokes people and Assad's sound just like Baghdad Bob, and will be just as effective.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Can you hear me now? Not in Afghanistan

Reuters reported on the shutdown of all cell phone service in the Helmand province of Afghanistan.  In Afghanistan there is very little in the way of infrastructure and next to no land line phones, as a result, almost all telephone communication is done by cell phones.  This is not just an inconvenience, a large section of the country is without and phone service at all due to the Taliban orders.  I'm thinking that this might be a glaring neon sign that we are nowhere close to being ready to hand over security duties to the Afghanistan national forces.

It seems that western intelligence listens in on the cell phone calls made and uses this to gather intelligence on the Taliban.  The Taliban, of course, don't like this and have at different times done this before for short periods or in selected areas.  This is the first time it has lasted so long over such a large area.The cell phone company has complied with the Taliban demand because in the past when they didn't comply their equipment was blown up.  According the the cell phone company, AWCC, they do not feel protected by the government and would rather give in to the Taliban than have $100,000 cell phone towers destroyed.

As a comparison, imagine an area about the size of South Carolina with no phone coverage.  This shows just how weak and ineffective the current government is and how little security the NATO force on the ground can provide.  Not much information about Afghanistan is hitting the news lately with all of the other hotspots flaring up, but I think this is very telling.  Combine this with reports of mass defections from the national security forces and it looks pretty bleak.  It looks like the Karzai government is a paper tiger.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fin de Siecle

Current events in the Middle East and across the Maghreb seem to have come out of nowhere and caught everyone by surprise.  So far very few people have attempted to explain why now and why in these locations.  I wouldn't be so bold as to try to give any explanation just yet, but I would like to put forward a very general analysis of the timing.  I would ascribe it to the phenomenon known as Fin de Siecle, end of the century literally.  The idea being that world events tend to go a bit out of control or come to a head at or near the end of a century.

First off, it's obviously been some time since the end of the last century.  However this concept is not linked exactly to calendar dates and is more closely linked with movements or epochs.  Thus, if you look at the end of the previous century you see that the final outcomes from events that started near the calendar turn of the century did not come to an end until about 1918 with the end of the First World War.  So there is some flexibility when looking at the timing of events.  The Cult of the Offensive that helped lead to the outbreak of World War I was growing long before the outbreak of the war and those who were caught up in it ignored the facts that were piling up against it.  The introduction of rapid fire rifles and machine guns at the end of the 1800's actually favored defense as was shown during the Boer Wars and even to some extent at the end of the US Civil War.

If you look at the years around 1800 you will see similar world changing events just prior to and following the turn of the century.  The US and French Revolutions, the Inca uprising and the Mexican War for Independence and others.  There just seems to be a tendency for major changes or shifts in power or thought to occur right around the change of the century and there is no difference with our current change.

Looking at the 10 years or so before and now after the year 2000 we have huge changes in the world.  1989 the fall of the Berlin Wall is where I would put the start date.  As for the most influential or at least prescient writing, though I disagreed with him in 1992, Francis Fukuyama's, The End of History takes my vote. Democracy and Western political ideals in general have won, we are just now seeing the fallout from this win.  There is just no longer any justification for authoritarian regimes of any sort and people have had enough of waiting for these regimes to reform themselves.  The addition of current forms of rapid mass communication have sped up the rate of change to levels never seen before.  It has not changed to nature of history only the speed at which it happens.  We surely have several more years of violent upheaval to live through.  Our leaders need to catch up and come up with a coherent policy to deal with it.  Otherwise we will simply be blown by the winds of change and taken for a ride instead of charting our own course.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Aviation can only do so much

The current no-fly zone in Libya brings the topic of air power and it's effectiveness into relief once again.  Watching several international news feeds i have seen several "experts" who opined that the Libyan military and it's mercenaries would simply melt away once airstrikes started to hit them.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Air power alone in incapable of winning a fight on its own.  There are plenty of examples of this from recent history.  The no-fly zones in Northern and Southern Iraq that existed from about 1993 until Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced in 2003 did not stop the Iraqi regime from attacking Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north.  Total control of the air over the former Yugoslavia in the 1990's, including targeted airstrikes, did not stop some of the worst massacres in history from happening at Srebrenica and elsewhere in Bosnia.

Gaddafi's military obviously still has a significant number of loyal commanders and soldiers.  I would assume from the lack of reports of any exodus of sub-Saharan Africans that his mercenary force is still intact as well.  Commentators have a very low opinion of these forces and have almost discounted them altogether expecting them to turn tail and run at the first airstrikes.  While it has not been made public where these mercenaries are from, we can look at the conflicts in the past 10 years in sub-Saharan Africa to get an idea of their experience.  These fighters have been exposed to some of the most brutal and close quarters fighting in recent memory.  Many also have grown up surrounded by war from their childhood.  It is not realistic to expect these forces to run away from bombs.

These air strikes do set a condition for the possible success of the anti-government forces it is far from a fait accompli.  The rebels still have a very long hard fights ahead of them, one it is hard to see them winning outright any time soon without some outside help.  Without more loyalist military units defecting the rebels will need more arms and equipment and communications to prevail.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

International first?

The just beginning Operation Odyssey Dawn may be the first time that the international community has managed to move quickly enough (thought still very slowly) to get involved in protecting civilians while military action is still going on.  Previously UN involvement has always has the prerequisite that hostilities needed to cease prior to any action.  This is even more ground breaking in view of the fairly recent failures of action in Bosnia and in Rwanda.  I applaud this new rapid reaction.  However, it does beg the question.  What is the point at which the international community will feel the necessity to intervene in the internal situations in sovereign nations?

If the use of the national military against the civilian population is the tipping point, then that opens up many other nations for potential intervention.  Bahrain would be the most obvious current situation, but also Iran, Syria, Yemen, and even China's actions in Tibet.  If anything, this current UN sanctioned operation raises more questions than it answers.  But it is encouraging to see rhetoric about freedom and democracy being put into action.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Current U.S. Foreign Policy

Do we even have a coherent foreign policy at the moment?  If we do I'm at a loss to say what it is.  At least under the past two Presidential administrations we had a clear policy, right, wrong, or indifferent, we had a policy that guided us and gave some idea to other nations as to how we would react to different situations.  In the past two years our nation seems to be purely reactionary with no direction.  Even within the administration the individual players seems to be without direction.

Under president Clinton we had the policy of Engagement.  The US attempted to engage leaders of other nations in dialogues, we were heavily involved in multinational efforts in the Former Yougoslav Republics, Kosovo and elsewere. We tried to keep the Middle East peace process moving forward as best we could, we even engaged in unofficial talks with North Korea and Syria.  Nations knew that if they approached the US either through regular channels or even back channels that their interests would at least be heard.  Whether you feel this policy was right or wrong, it was clear and uniformly administered.  The only negative I saw personally was that the domestic policy of keeping the budget small combined with this policy of engagement put a large strain on a very small military.

With President George W. Bush global events more so than ideological differences caused a shift in policy.  The events of 9/11/2001 necessitated a change in foreign policy.  Under the Bush administration the Global War On Terror (GWOT) became the be all end all of foreign policy.  In Bush's words, 'You are either with us, or against us."  This made our position very clear to the entire world, leaders of all nations and even non-state actors knew exactly what to expect from the United States. 

That brings us to today and President Obama's administration.  We have the continuation of Bush's Iraqification policy and it seems we are trying to do the same in Afghanistan.  However, with 50,000 troops still in Iraq this seems more like public relations than reality(to put that in perspective that's the equivalent of 4 infantry divisions, we had 10 divisions in the whole Army under Clinton).  The recent events in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and through the Middle East have shown clearly that the US has no coherent foreign policy.  Our responses have been timid.  The Department of State diplomats have been out of step with the administration.  The US was caught totally flat footed on Tunisia, Supported the protesters in Egypt and Libya, are supporting the governments of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia (though we have asked them not to shoot live bullets at their people), and appear to still be on the fence about Yemen.

We don't support democracy for all.  Do we support democratic revolutions only in countries that are opposed to us? No, Egypt is one of our longest standing allies in the Middle East.  Do we support the dictatorial regimes as long as the dictator is useful to us? No, Egypt again and also Yemen go against this, while Bahrain and Saudi Arabia support it.  What is our policy? What do we stand for? Who will we support and who will we not? We don't even agree with our best and longest standing ally Britain on what we are doing.

This lack of coherent policy combined with uneven actions will only lead to further destabilisation. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Where the title comes from

Where did I come up with the name for this blog? Well, it's just descriptive of my view of world events.  A little background on myself is in order.  I was born and raised in and around Los Angeles, California.  I spent four years after graduating from high school in the U.S. Army in Airborne and Light Infantry units and deployed all over the world.  Following that, I attended the University of Southern California where I earned my B.A. in International Relations.  I spent a few more years in the Army after that.  I then attended The Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law and received my Juris Doctorate.  The combination on experiences and education has given me a very different outlook on events that occur around the world.  For that matter, as an American it is unusual for me to even be aware of much of the rest of the world, a sad situation.

I intend this blog to be a place where I can share information about world events, global happenings and politics with my readers. 

I also have a couple of other blogs you may be interested in:
My Journey, thought and reflections on my walk with Christ
LightFighter's Ramblings