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The US Giveth, Benghazi Taketh Away.

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A couple of nutjobs in the US drum up a cheesy documentary trashing the Prophet Mohammed. Excerpts end up on YouTube where someone conveniently translates them into Arabic (we assume correctly).

In the United States we call this free speech, because while objectionable, it did not rally hordes of wannabe crusaders to attack Muslims. Free speech is guaranteed by the US Constitution which is upheld by its directly elected Executive, Legislature, and appointed Judiciary.

Meanwhile in Benghazi, “America” – as a whole – insulted the Prophet and must pay the price. The mob needs a convenient target. The gates of the US Consulate are stormed, and the Libyan Ambassador, and three of his team are killed trying to stem the violence. All because a couple of cranks who just happened to be American decided to go after the Prophet for the umpteenth time.

This kind of medieval kneejerk response – which happens as regularly as clockwork – does not bode well for a transition to a pluralist society with sturdy democratic institutions in Libya. It’s a sort of country, jammed with tribes, guns, jihadists, oil, and enough governmental experience to fill a thimble.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. Two months from a Presidential Election, the President must be seen to be seeking justice for this outrage, and holding the Libyan “government” to account (without of course humiliating them and exposing them as powerless).

And there’s one other point worth nothing.

It was the United States that was instrumental in getting the Russians and Chinese to acquiesce to a UN resolution that gave the French and British a healthy “humanitarian” mandate to bomb the shit out of Gaddafi’s armored columns as they marched on Benghazi to massacre the rebels there back in ’11.

Wait, did I say America saved Benghazi’s bacon? Yes, I believe I did.

A little thank you would have been nice.

Written by coolrebel

September 12, 2012 at 9:04 am

Syria Proves There Is No International Community Unless There’s Oil

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Apart from the meddling of various Muslim states on either side of the Sunni Shiite schism, and Turkish desperation to yet again curb its Kurds, and have a say in the outcome of next door’s brutal civil war, it looks very much like Syria is descending into one of the most vicious examples of state against rebel bloodletting for a very long time. Over time, the outcome is certain, Assad and the Alawites will fall, but little else can be predicted. How long it takes, how many people die, and the shape of Syria’s future ( even if there is a Syria ) are all “known unknowns”. But there is something likely, very likely. That the “International Community” will play little part in the outcome.

Apart from some minor and inconsequential bleats by Paris, nobody else with a seat at the big table wants any part of this conflict. The US and UK are stony in their silence now the UN play has crashed and burned courtesy of the Russians and the Chinese. Kofi Annan’s attempts to broker peace were merely used by Moscow and Beijing to perpetuate the strategic status quo and maintain Russian reach into the Mediterranean.

So here we are. Thousands dying every month, each death a trigger for more revenge. Air power is being used against lines at bakeries. And a sneaking suspicion starts to creep into the abyss in the form of a question.

Would it be different if Syria was a significant oil exporter?

This will not end well.  

Written by coolrebel

September 3, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Libya – Obama’s Warped Concept of War Powers

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There’s a nice news nugget rolling around the web right now to the effect that the President “overruled” two White House Constitutional wonks on what constitutes hostilities involving the United States that require the approval of Congress. The case in question was, of course, Libya, and the specifics were whether the turning of Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli into a parking lot constituted ‘hostilities’.

From Qaddafi’s point of view, there’s no doubt that having his outhouses flattened and army tanks turned into burning hulks clearly constitutes ‘hostilities’. But war these days can be fought from a distance. It doesn’t have to be a two-way street anymore. Apart from the accidental loss of an F-15 during the early stages of the air strikes, we have suffered no battle casualties, and nor, as far as we know, have our allies. We have no boots on the ground, and will not be committing combat troops, which means we’re relying on air-power alone to sink the Libyan dictator. All that makes Obama’s and risible ‘constitutional’ argument somewhat defensible.

The second key factor is the legal foundation of the assault on Qaddafi. It’s a UN humanitarian mission, and definitely not an Article 7 assualt. The reason, of course, that it’s a “humanitarian” mission to bomb the daylights out of Qaddafi’s forces is because that was the only way to get the Chinese and Russian’s to abstain and allow the mission to move forward. The Russians and Chinese got played (which is rare for them). At the time, they had no idea of the extent of the mission, but they could hardly have been seen voting down a humanitarian mission. In other words, “humanitarian” is the cover that enabled the mission to have begun at all. If you remember, the origin of the ‘humanitarian’ mission was to avert a massacre of Benghazi rebels by Qaddafi’s forces massing outside the city. That massacre was predicted, but hadn’t taken place. An interesting approach to humanitarianism is born. From now on we can put the world’s bad guys on notice that if the UN conveniently ‘predicts’ a humanitarian catastrophe it can theoretically go to war to stop it. That would seem to extend the UN’s powers exponentially.

Thirdly, there’s the added cover of the assault being a NATO led mission. Since its creation just after World War Two, NATO has always been a fig leaf that enabled America to bypass the appearance of facing the Soviet Union alone. But the truth is that the power and capabilities of all our allies in NATO combined didn’t come close to that of the United States. NATO without America was not feasible, then, and it’s not feasible and now. In the case of the Libyan assault, the enemy is so weak that once the US had dispatched its air defenses, the feeble and out-dated Air Forces of our allies were more than adequate to the task of pounding the Libyan Army and Qaddafi’s headquarters.

Put all these factors together, and Obama can quite easily make a ‘de facto’ case that the Libyan mission doesn’t constitute hostilities under the War Powers Act. But make no mistake, despite all the talk of the learned constitutional scholar overruling his legal pups in the Oval Office, this debate has zero to do with the constitutional powers of the President, and everything to do with politics. The West wants to expunge its renewed relationship with Qaddafi, including the embarrassing trade agreement that the US recently forged with him.

But there’s a host of problems. What happens if we’re still slugging it out with Qaddafi a year from now, as we approach the Presidential Election? The argument will hold an awful lot less water, especially as the stalemate narrative will have solidified beyond any doubt. Does the US withdraw its forces? Does John Boehner try again to push through the War Powers argument? Certainly, on the ground, it seems clear that as of now, the Rebel forces do not have – without mass army defections – enough firepower, manpower, or operational ability to drive into and hold the capital Tripoli. The allied effort is driven by the thesis that Middle East dictators have total control until the day it rapidly falls apart. This may yet stand up, but the deeply tribal basis of Libyan culture and political life would tend to work against it. However, in the long term, Qaddafi will fall. The question is only whether NATO will have to call off the dogs for other domestic reasons.

More likely is another set of issues. What happens when Qaddafi falls, and despite all the moderate talk of the “Transitional Council” the bloodletting by anti-Qaddafi tribes begins? What happens when the cobbled-together “democracy” they try to create collapses? What happens when Islamists try to gain control? What happens if the refugee crisis Europe is hoping to avert – doesn’t get averted. What if we just get a different set of refugees?

In short, for all the President’s attempt to turn this into a professorial legal issue. It isn’t. It’s nasty, dirty, political and practical.

Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn rule could yet apply. We’ll own the Libya we inherit.

Written by coolrebel

June 18, 2011 at 2:06 am

Welcome to the Bullshit Era

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In the old days, policy used to have at least some potential to become reality, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that in America at least, those days are over. Nothing anybody seems to suggest from the President on downwards seems to mean a hill of beans anymore. It’s as if the country is set on a course for planet “slow decline into mediocrity” (or worse) and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it. All this despite some soaring rhetoric from the President, and plenty of hot air from just about everyone else.

Here’s a rundown of the current bullshitian landscape.

Jobs.

Anyone who thinks a $30-40bn Jobs bill is going to pass without being watered down to meaninglessness is dreaming. And it’s not certain why it will fare any better than the $800bn dollar stimulus package which was supposed to rebuild the economy and create, yes, that’s right. Jobs. The problems that the US economy is facing are profound and structural. Just throwing money at the problem without deep and lasting changes to – industrial, fiscal, and budgetary policy – sorry about the ‘P word’ again – needs to rethink very, very quickly. We don’t make stuff here. Some people suggest that manufacturing in the US isn’t “cost effective”, but my question is this. Why is it cost-effective in Germany?

Any-way, moving on to…

Wall Street

The President talks a great game about beating up onWall Street, especially now he’s been sobered up to the problem by the Massachusetts debacle. But it’s a tad too late. In January of 2009 the banks were still sinking in the quicksand. That’s the time to make them an offer they can’t refuse. After we’ve pulled them out, and they’ve put on fresh $500 shirts is not the time to be making a deal with them. And yet this is what we did. We had our boot on their necks and we blew our chance to make the single most destructive force in this country pay. And now, in the cold light of day, is anyone in the 41 strong Republican Senate caucus going to vote for meaningful financial reform? Uhh, Nope. Will Wall Street be constrained from ruining the nation again? Nope.

Healthcare

What was once a burning need is now a footnote that’s about to be buried ahead of the mid term elections. The Democrats thought that Healthcare reform was a winner, but after being thoroughly outmaneuvered by GOP demagoguery that idea is now going the way of another smart idea…

Stopping Global Warming.

Let’s get this straight. The world is waiting for America to get its act together on controlling greenhouse gases. But is 41 strong Republican Senate caucus going to vote fr meaningful climate legislation? Uhh, Nope. It will die.

Education

Ah, what’s the point. Nobody cares.

Finally, on domestic policy, my personal favorite…

High Speed Trains

California just got $2bn dollars of Federal Stimulus funding to build a high speed train network. Sounds great, right? Except for the fact that the total bill (and that’s before the usual corruption, incompetence, delays and overruns) is $42 billion. Chances of this happening in a state with a perennial budget crisis? Nil.

Moving abroad now…

Iraq

At a certain point in time, the United States is going to have to face the rather unpleasant moment when our last grunt gets on the last transport plane out of Baghdad Airport. Cue the bombs. Cue the resurgence of the insurgents and the reemergence of the Mahdi Army. Hello, reality.

Afghanistan

One day conference in London. Karzai tells us he’s going to end corruption and undo a millennia’s worth of being a basketcase that’s swallowed up empires, as well as buying off the Taliban recruits without guaranteeing their protection. He’s got 18 months before the troops we’re about to land there ship out. You do the math.

Iran

Sanctions work. And if you believe that, you think Sarah Palin is a closet liberal. Will the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 be able to justify NOT attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities? Unlikely.

Haiti

Will the outpouring of aid from Americans be matched by a long-term commitment to fix Haiti? Watch the BS flow. Ain’t nothing gonna change in Haiti.

So you see, on just about every front, there’s an awful lot of talk about how we’re going to fix things.

And then there’s reality.

Welcome to the Bullshit Era.

Written by coolrebel

January 28, 2010 at 11:57 am

American Power – Redefined.

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The Neo-Cons are dead. Long live the Neo-Libs.

Not in the economic sense, but in terms of America’s entire place in the world

It’s not just conservatives who believe that the continued hegemony of the United States is critical to the wellbeing of human-kind.  But the Neo-Lib prescription veers from the Neo-Cons very substantially after that. We neo-libs do not feel that military power is the key to our continued dominance. Instead Neo-Liberalism calls for a Wilsonesque revival of America’s power through goodwill and largesse, backed by  a Rooseveltian (and I mean Teddy) “big stick”. For too long, under the Neo-Cons, we talked loudly and carried a stick that frankly got smaller and smaller the deeper we fell into the morass of Iraq and Afghanistan.

It may seem like an odd time to be talking about American hegemony.  Our nation is in an economic crisis unlike any it has experienced in decades. The threat to our continued power is probably at its highest point since the Second World War, which would seem a perfect time to reassert it. Fortunately, our adversaries around the globe aren’t in any better shape than we are, and in many respects have further to fall. Even more fortuitous is the presence of a new President who could be the beacon for Neo-Liberalism. While Obama may have shown some early weakness on the domestic policy front, particularly with his reluctance to detach himself from tried-and-failed centrism, but on the foreign stage, he has an opportunity to rebuild and reinvigorate US power.

So let us begin to forge a plan for the rebuilding of American power. Here’s how.

China: Our main adversary is China. Indeed there may be a developing zero-sum relationship developing in Sino-US relations. America must stop its policy of appeasement towards Beijing and use the threat of internal dissent in the Chinese hinterland to drive a rebalancing of our trading and military relationships with China – to our advantage. We must regain the political and financial initiative in our dealings with Beijing, and expose their charlatnism and double standards for our own ends, and those of our allies. Finally, we must seek to compete with China in Africa, and not cede ground there.

The Middle East: Instead of segmenting the various theatres, from East to West, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and the Israeli-Palestinian Crisis, we should see them as part of an ongoing war (whether cold, diplomatic, economic, or hot) for stability in the region. The interconnectedness of every part of the Mid East to virtually every other, requires a more supple diplomatic and economic approach, sharpened by the use of economic warfare for pursuit of our political ends. Our priorities in the region should be a) a rapid two-state solution to the Palestinian issue, forcing Israel’s hand if necessary. b) normalization of trading and diplomatic relations with Iran regardless of their nuclear ambitions c) The weakening of the Taliban by choking their opium funding. d) achieving stability and strength in Pakistan by developing close ties with the Pakistani Army and undermining the ISI.

Europe: We must actively seek to reforge our partnership with Europe in trading terms, while recognizing the political differences we have with the EU, particularly on diplomatic and military strategy. Europe is not a viable military partner, and must not be seen as such. However, the US must commit itself to preserving European stability in the face of rising internal terrorist threats, and current and future economic instability. Our main conduit to influence in Europe will continue to be the UK. Our relationship with London should be strengthened.

The World Environment: In the face of global warming, America must take the lead on the Environment, forcing China and India to follow suit, or face international consequences. We must make massive investment in a post-fossil fuel economy, and aggressively export and control world innovation in the green economy. It will also strengthen our domestic economy.

International Bodies: America should begin to withdraw its support for the UN and over time should seek to replace it with a new international body with less of an accent on peacekeeping and cooperation, and more on effective military and political action. The various UN agencies need to reconstituted and folded into a new international structure. The IMF and World Bank need to be repackaged, with greater authority, under US auspices, to preserve financial and economic stability.

International Communications: America must maintain its control of the Internet, and be responsible for its regeneration and development. It remains the bedrock of America’s innovation advantage, which the US must leverage to the maximum degree by being highly competitive in the world marketplace.

Foreign Aid: We have just committed nearly a trillion dollars to a “stimulus package”. Half of that money carefully invested in our more strategic allies, such as Pakistan, Afghan farmers, and Iran, over a presidential term will help to drive America’s campaign to rebuild its goodwill, and give us a powerful foothold in what could otherwise be troublesome nations.

Foreign Debt: Over time the US should seek to reduce and restructure its debts away from adversarial creditor nations, such as China, and Middle Eastern Sovereign Funds and towards friendlier debtor nations such as the UK, Taiwan, and Japan.

Domestic Policy: Strengthening US infrastructure, developing a viable universal health care system, boosting effective education, rebuilding the middle class, and reforming the US regulatory framework are a keystone to projecting US power abroad. The new President should use his virtual lock on Congress to push through required reforms.

The broad framework of neo-liberalism is simple. We believe that the goal of US hegemony is worthwhile, achievable, and necessary for the stability of the globe. Achieving our ends will be through rebuilding and projecting US economic power, the extension of US economic, diplomatic and technological influence, and the development of a more supple, lethal military to back-up our ambitions.