How Proxy Wars Work – By Lionel Boehner November 12, 2015


With U.S.-made antitank missiles finding their way to Syrian rebels and Russian fighter jets pummeling the same rebels and supplying the Bashar al-Assad regime with antiaircraft missile systems, it might seem easy to describe the battle in Syria as a proxy war. But that phrase gets tossed around too carelessly and comes with some dangerous myths.

First, describing the Syrian quagmire as a proxy war implies that the conflict is mainly about larger fissures in the region, especially the rift between Sunni and Shiite, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Second, it suggests that the conflict will be resolved chiefly by outside actors hashing out their differences at the table. Third, the phrase indicates that the conflict is an incredibly high-stakes game involving existential issues on which compromise is impossible.

As the history of past proxy wars teaches, though, all three assumptions are wrong. To bring the fighting in Syria to an end, all parties involved will need to get real about what a proxy war is—and what it isn’t. Proxy wars do not miraculously extinguish themselves without some measure of bottom-up attempts to make peace among local fighters or a fundamental shift in the conflict’s balance of power on the ground.

Smoke rises from what activists said was a military position of forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad after clashes with Army of Islam fighters, outside Douma, near Damascus September 13, 2015.

Smoke rises from what activists said was a military position of forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad after clashes with Army of Islam fighters, outside Douma, near Damascus September 13, 2015.

COLD WAR THINKING

The term “proxy war” conjures images of the Cold War, when outside powers—namely, the United States and Soviet Union, but also regional players—treated local combatants as pawns on a geopolitical chessboard. In the 1970s and 1980s, a number of guerrilla conflicts in Latin America became de facto conflicts between the Soviet Union and the United States. Ditto wars in Angola, Chad, and Vietnam.

Just as it was unthinkable in those days that Washington and Moscow would get tangled in a conventional war, it is hard to imagine the United States and Russia going to war today. And, in fact, proxy wars are prevalent when the costs of traditional interstate war are high. And so, Hezbollah-backed Syrian forces and rebels from the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS) can go at each other’s throats with little risk of regional escalation.

Article continues:

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2015-11-12/how-proxy-wars-work

Tony Blair sorry for Iraq war ‘mistakes’ and admits conflict played role in rise of Isis – Nick Watt Sunday 25 October 2015 06.32 EDT


 

Former British PM apologises for ‘wrong’ intelligence and mistakes in planning of conflict and admits ‘elements of truth’ in claim war led to rise of Isis

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Tony Blair has apologised for aspects of the Iraq war, sparking claims of attempted “spin” ahead of the Chilcot inquiry findings.

The former UK prime minister used a US television interview – due to be broadcast by CNN Europe on Sunday – to express regret over the failure to plan properly for the aftermath of the toppling in 2003 of Saddam Hussein and the false intelligence used to justify it.

“I apologise for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong,” he told CNN. “I also apologise for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime.”

Asked by host Fareed Zakaria if the Iraq war was “the principal cause” of the rise of Islamic State, he was reported by the Mail on Sunday to have conceded: “I think there are elements of truth in that.”

He added: “Of course you can’t say those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015.”

Later, a spokeswoman for the former prime minister said: “Tony Blair has always apologised for the intelligence being wrong and for mistakes in planning. He has always also said, and says again here, that he does not however think it was wrong to remove Saddam.

Article continues:

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/oct/25/tony-blair-sorry-iraq-war-mistakes-admits-conflict-role-in-rise-of-isis

 

The End of Pax Americana – By Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson November/December 2015 Issue


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The Obama administration has clearly pulled back from the United States’ recent interventionism in the Middle East, notwithstanding the rise of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) and the U.S.-led air war against it. Critics pin the change on the administration’s aversion to U.S. activism in the region, its unwillingness to engage in major combat operations, or President Barack Obama’s alleged ideological preference for diminished global engagement. But the reality is that Washington’s post-9/11 interventions in the region—especially the one in Iraq—were anomalous and shaped false perceptions of a “new normal” of American intervention, both at home and in the region. The administration’s unwillingness to use ground forces in Iraq or Syria constitutes not so much a withdrawal as a correction—an attempt to restore the stability that had endured for several decades thanks to American restraint, not American aggressiveness.

It’s possible to argue that pulling back is less a choice than a necessity. Some realist observers claim that in a time of economic uncertainty and cuts to the U.S. military budget, an expansive U.S. policy in the region has simply become too costly. According to that view, the United States, like the United Kingdom before it, is the victim of its own “imperial overstretch.” Others argue that U.S. policy initiatives, especially the recent negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, have distanced Washington from its traditional Middle Eastern allies; in other words, the United States isn’t pulling back so much as pushing away.

The long period of American primacy in the Middle East is ending.

In actuality, however, the main driver of the U.S. pullback is not what’s happening in Washington but what’s happening in the region. Political and economic developments in the Middle East have reduced the opportunities for effective American intervention to a vanishing point, and policymakers in Washington have been recognizing that and acting accordingly. Given this, the moderate U.S. pullback should be not reversed but rather continued, at least in the absence of a significant threat to core U.S. interests.

Article continues:

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/middle-east/2015-10-20/end-pax-americana

America’s Fading Footprint in the Middle East – By Yaroslav Trofimov Oct. 9, 2015 1:32 p.m. ET


As Russia bombs and Iran plots, the U.S. role is shrinking—and the region’s major players are looking for new ways to advance their own interests

U.S. Army soldiers board a helicopter as they leave after the end of their one-year deployment in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan, in March 2012.

U.S. Army soldiers board a helicopter as they leave after the end of their one-year deployment in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan, in March 2012. Photo: Erik De Castro/Reuters

Despised by some, admired by others, the U.S. has been the Middle East’s principal power for decades, providing its allies with guidance and protection.

Now, however, with Russia and Iran thrusting themselves boldly into the region’s affairs, that special role seems to be melting away. As seasoned politicians and diplomats survey the mayhem, they struggle to recall a moment when America counted for so little in the Middle East—and when it was held in such contempt, by friend and foe alike.

“It’s the lowest ebb since World War II for U.S. influence and engagement in the region,” said Ryan Crocker, a career diplomat who served as the Obamaadministration’s ambassador to Afghanistan and before that as U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Pakistan.

From shepherding Israel toward peace with its Arab neighbors to rolling back Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and halting the contagion of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, the U.S. has long been at the core of the Middle East’s security system. Its military might secured critical trade routes and the bulk of the world’s oil supply. Today, the void created by U.S. withdrawal is being filled by the very powers that American policy has long sought to contain.

“If you look at the heart of the Middle East, where the U.S. once was, we are now gone—and in our place, we have Iran, Iran’s Shiite proxies, Islamic State and the Russians,” added Mr. Crocker, now dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. “What had been a time and place of U.S. ascendancy we have ceded to our adversaries.”

Article continues:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/americas-fading-footprint-in-the-middle-east-1444411954

 

The Greatest Threat to America – By Paul D. Shinkman Aug 2015


American flags burn in a flag retirement ceremony on Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014, at Phil Moore Park in Bowling Green, Ky. Matthew Vance of Troop 108 collected about 80 flags to retire as his Eagle Scout project.

In the modern world, dangers against Americans abound.

U.S. decision-makers are confronted with myriad complex issues, including the Islamic State group and “lone-wolf” terrorists, China, cyber attacks from unknown hackers, al-Qaida, cyber attacks from known hackers, Iran, domestic budget cuts, North Korea, climate change, drug cartels straddling its borders, and Russia’s continued ability to reduce the North American continent to a radioactive crisp.

The job of commander-in-chief has perhaps never been more difficult, and public disagreement among the president’s top advisers gives the appearance to those outside the White House Situation Room that top U.S. national security infrastructure doesn’t know where to start.

[READ: Meet the New Joint Chiefs of Staff]

July saw top officials from across the government asked publicly what they believed served as the greatest threat facing the U.S. Their responses gave insight into the most closely guarded meetings within the executive branch where the commander-in-chief and his top lieutenants cannot settle for anything less than accurately anticipating the future. It’s a job the U.S. has never quite perfected, and it is perhaps more difficult now than ever.

“You’re hearing a cacophony of views, because it’s almost unpredictable,” says Barry Pavel, a former senior national security adviser to presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, and longtime Pentagon policy official. He cites, for example, the “fantastical scenario” a decade ago that the Russian military would act belligerently and march on a foreign country. What may have been considered a fringe forecast turns out to have been pretty accurate.

“It does reflect that there’s no single overriding existential threat to the U.S. as there was during the Cold War,” says Samuel “Sandy” Berger, the national security adviser to President Bill Clinton until 2001. And during that time, the U.S. and the Soviet Union each knew roughly how many missiles the other had. “It was an easy framework to think about.”

So how to prepare for a far more complex world? It became a favored question of Sen. Joe Manchin last month. The West Virginia Democrat exploited a time of almost unprecedented turnover among the Joint Chiefs of Staff to grill the nation’s new top officers about what they fear most.

“My assessment today, senator, is that Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security,” came a snappy answer from Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, in his nomination hearing. His characteristic clarity surprised some, who figured the infantry commander who earned his combat chops in Iraq and Afghanistan might prioritize Islamic extremism or the cauldron of violence that now serves as much of the Middle East.

“In Russia, we have a nuclear power,” the general responded to Manchin’s request for further details. “We have one that not only has capability to violate sovereignty of our allies to do things that are inconsistent with our national interests, but they’re in the process of doing so.”

Article continues:

http://www.usnews.com/news/the-report/articles/2015/08/07/the-greatest-threat-to-america?int=a14709

KA-CHING – Kate Brannen 08.02.15 9:00 PM ET


The company getting rich off the ISIS war

Photo Illustration by Emil Lendof/The Daily Beast

Kate Brannen

The war against ISIS isn’t going so great, with the terror group standing up to a year of U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.

But that hasn’t kept defense contractors from doing rather well amidst the fighting. Lockheed Martin has received orders for thousands of more Hellfire missiles. AM General is busy supplying Iraq with 160 American-built Humvee vehicles, while General Dynamics is selling the country millions of dollars worth of tank ammunition.

SOS International, a family-owned business whose corporate headquarters are located in New York City, is one of the biggest players on the ground in Iraq, employing the most Americans in the country after the U.S. Embassy. On the company’s board of advisors: former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz – considered to be one of the architects of the invasion of Iraq – and Paul Butler, a former special assistant to Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld.

The company, which goes by “SOSi,” says on its website that the contracts it’s been awarded for work in Iraq in 2015 have a total value of more than $400 million. They include a $40 million contract to provide everything from meals to perimeter security to emergency fire and medical services at Iraq’s Besmaya Compound, one of the sites where U.S. troops are training Iraqi soldiers. The Army awarded SOSi a separate $100 million contract in late June for similar services at Camp Taji. The Pentagon expects that contract to last through June 2018.

 

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/08/02/the-company-getting-rich-off-of-the-isis-war.html

Who stood to profit most over the years? – AUGUST 02, 2015 8:53 AM ET


25 Years In Iraq, With No End In Sight – GREG MYRE

 

U.S. Marines arrive at Saudi Arabia's Dhahran Air Base on Aug. 21, 1990. The U.S. began a buildup in the region just days after Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2 of that year. The U.S. military has been active in Iraq virtually nonstop for the past quarter-century.

U.S. Marines arrive at Saudi Arabia’s Dhahran Air Base on Aug. 21, 1990. The U.S. began a buildup in the region just days after Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2 of that year. The U.S. military has been active in Iraq virtually nonstop for the past quarter-century. Gerard Fouet/AFP/Getty Images

It started so well. When Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, the United States swiftly cobbled together a broad coalition, unleashed a stunning new generation of air power and waged a lightning ground offensive that lasted all of four days. Iraqi troops were so desperate to quit that some surrendered to Western journalists armed only with notebooks.

Kuwait was liberated, U.S. commander Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf was a hero, and the pundits confidently declared the U.S. had buried its “Vietnam syndrome,” the fear of being sucked into a quagmire. In the annals of war, it doesn’t get much easier than this.

So on the 25th anniversary of that first Iraq conflict, how is it possible that the U.S. is still entangled in a messy, complicated war with no end on the horizon?

Iraq President Saddam Hussein is shown in Baghdad in January 1991, just before the first U.S. war in Iraq. The American forces would oust the Iraqi leader 12 years later in a second war.i

Iraq President Saddam Hussein is shown in Baghdad in January 1991, just before the first U.S. war in Iraq. The American forces would oust the Iraqi leader 12 years later in a second war.

AP

Aside from an intermission from December 2011 until August 2014, the U.S. military has been rumbling through the sweltering sands or soaring over the desert skies for this entire quarter-century, a military engagement unparalleled in U.S. history.

Before the first Iraq battle, the U.S. had never fought a large-scale war in the Middle East. Yet freeing a tiny Gulf emirate from Saddam’s clutches has morphed into a seemingly permanent state of war, metastasizing to so many countries it’s tough to put a precise number on it.

Here’s one way to count: President Obama has ordered airstrikes on seven Muslim countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Libya and Somalia) in less than seven years in office.

“Before 1990, the region was a secondary or even tertiary area of importance to Washington. The United States had rarely deployed military forces in the region,” Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official now at the Brookings Institution, wrote recently. “What had been a backwater for the U.S. military has become since 1990 the principal arena of conflict. This shows no sign of ending anytime soon.”

The U.S. military involvement has spanned four presidencies and a panoply of evolving goals.

In rough order, the shifting aims have been to reverse Saddam’s aggression, ensure the safe flow of oil from the Gulf, contain Saddam, oust Saddam, search for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, build democracy, pummel al-Qaida in Iraq, and currently, suppress the self-proclaimed Islamic State. If there’s a unifying theme, it’s the U.S. forecasts that have consistently been too optimistic.

“It’s been a 25-year-long enterprise, with different aims and approaches, none of which have yielded the results promised,” said Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel who served in Iraq and now teaches international relations at Boston University.

The U.S. policies have included five distinct phases. Here’s a closer look at them and their consequences:

1. Overwhelming Force (1991): The world was turning America’s way when, after a six-month military buildup, the U.S. began bombing Iraq on Jan. 17, 1991. The Berlin Wall had fallen, the Soviet Union would crumble by year’s end and the U.S. was the lone superpower.

The brief war only reinforced the notion that the U.S. was uniquely positioned to remake the global order in the wake of the Cold War. The only debate at the end of the first Iraq war was whether the U.S. squandered an opportunity by not advancing all the way to Baghdad, ousting Saddam and occupying Iraq.

Iraqi antiaircraft fire lights up the skies over Baghdad in response to U.S. warplanes that bombed the Iraqi capital in the early hours of Jan. 18, 1991. The U.S. campaign drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait in a little over a month.

Iraqi antiaircraft fire lights up the skies over Baghdad in response to U.S. warplanes that bombed the Iraqi capital in the early hours of Jan. 18, 1991. The U.S. campaign drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait in a little over a month.

Dominique Mollard/AP

But President George H.W. Bush cautioned against the risks of taking over Iraq. His top military adviser, Gen. Colin Powell, summed it up with the “Pottery Barn rule” – if you break it, you own it.

Bush wanted to withdraw the troops as quickly as possible to avoid any potential complications. His successors have had similar instincts, yet each American drawdown in Iraq has been followed by a fresh wave of forces at a later date.

“The 1991 war was quick and easy and created the myth that this is how we could fight wars now,” said James Dubik, a retired general and Iraq veteran who’s now at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington. “This set us up for a misunderstanding of how to wage war in the years that followed.”

There were other unanticipated consequences. Osama bin Laden would cite the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia — sent in the run-up to the war and remaining in its aftermath — as one of his main grievances against the U.S.

Article continues:

http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/08/02/425872296/25-years-in-iraq-with-no-end-in-sight

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