Michael Cohen published an article in Foreign Policy a couple of days ago in which he argues that the future of the U.S.-Israel relationship will be marked by “less cooperation, more disagreements, and greater tension.” The piece is headlined “The Democrats Are Finally Turning Away From Israel” with the inflammatory subhead “And it’s high time they did,” but this does not reflect Cohen’s core arguments, and I am 100% confident that he had nothing to do with the title in any way (having been published in FP on numerous occasions, I can say from personal experience that the editors choose the title on their own and the first time the writer even knows about it is when it goes live on the website).
“So far as Syria is concerned, it is France and not Turkey that is the enemy.” – T. E. Lawrence, February 1915
It was a curious comment by the oddball, but unarguably brilliant, British agent and scholar, Thomas Edward Lawrence. The time was World War I, and England and France were locked in a death match with the Triple Alliance, of which Turkey was a prominent member. But it was none-the-less true, and no less now than then. In the Middle East, to paraphrase William Faulkner, history is not the past, it’s the present.
As enemy columns began a long, arduous advance to the capital, city after city and town after town fell. With a phased American pull out that left not a single combat troop in the country, US-equipped and trained local forces began to melt away, a combination of tactical defeats, surrenders, desertions and mutinies. The outlook of reengagement looked even bleaker: more involvement in the longest war to have ever been fought in American history was a politically unpopular and untenable position.
It is astonishing how rapidly the fragile state of Iraq is imploding, as the Islamic militant group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Syria (ISIS), advances on many Iraqi cities. The 2003 military intervention by the United States and its allies destabilized the political and social framework of the country, which Nouri al-Maliki has completed. Resulting in sectarian divisions, through a progressive marginalization of the Sunni population. The surrender of Iraqi troops is the result of this foolish and short sighted policy. The huge investment (about $25 billion) in their training by the international community was insufficient.
The most grotesque spectacle in recent years has been that of an Australian prime minister on tour in the United States. The bib has to be procured to capture the drool. Fawning admiration accompanies unqualified assertions of promise and valour in the face of common enemies and those who do not share the “values” of each country.
Charles Dudley Warner’s oft-quoted suggestion that “politics makes strange bedfellows” is never better illustrated than the prospect of a rapprochement between Iran and the United States. Stimulated by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) rapid military advances in Iraq, both sides find themselves on the same side – albeit for vastly different reasons.
Why do states quarrel? One answer can be found in the bleak vision of Thomas Hobbes on his rumination of human nature, seen as motivated by competition, diffidence or glory. “The first maketh man invade for Gain, the second for Safety and the third for Reputation.” But fear not, as the solution he sees to taming the pesky impulses of human nature is found in relinquishing one’s sovereignty to the state, the Leviathan. In the same manner, taming states therefore requires striking up political alliances and surrendering one’s sovereignty to an interdependent system of states.
The biblical assertion that there is nothing original under the sun finds form on a regular basis in the behaviour of states. This is particularly so regarding assumptions or more often than not, misassumptions, about military means and abilities. The entire Cold War complex was riddled with psycho-babble and speculation: If they (they being a loose term for the enemy) get this weapon before we do, what will it do to the balance of power? As ever, the weapons race was pre-eminent, giving tenured positions to game-theorists and promoters of the “prisoner’s dilemma.” Nothing was spared in terms of dollar or rouble.
Front-page coverage of Sino-Japanese relations is fraught with reports of provocation. Incidents range from seemingly fortuitous encounters in the airspace of the overlapping air-defense zones to carefully planned military exercises in the waters surrounding the East China Sea and bear every semblance to open conflict. The principles guiding Japanese and Chinese foreign policy, however, speak a different and, in fact, surprisingly similar language, emphasizing shared concerns over the security of trade routes and regional stability which are key variables in the two countries’ economic growth equations.
As President Obama looks across the beaches of Normandy for the ceremony commemorating the D-Day landings, he could be forgiven for feeling ambivalent. Certainly, these are sites of great tragedy and a reminder of times when the threats were truly impending. Yet, as President Roosevelt might have reminded him, they also were simpler times, when Europe yearned for American action, the enemy was transparent and the public at home was united in its support of America’s mission.
The Obama administration has increased the risk of Islamist attacks against Americans with the release of five–most dangerous and seasoned–jihadists from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for the release of Bowe Bergdahl. They are as brutal as Osama bin Laden, and capable of planning major terrorist attacks. They have had over twelve years in isolation to think about targets. Guantanamo Bay still holds over 150 battle hardened enemy combatants. Sending the five to Qatar, the headquarters for the Taliban, will be like a homecoming—a brief period of rest and recuperation.
British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery had three laws of war. One, never march on Moscow. Two, never get in a land war in Asia. And three, never march on Moscow. So why are the U.S., the European Union (EU), and NATO on the road to the Russian capital? And exactly what are they hoping to accomplish? Like all battlefields on the Eastern front, this one is complicated.
For beginners, there are multiple armies marching eastward, and they are not exactly on the same page. In military parlance that is called divided command, and it generally ends in debacle. In addition, a lot of their weapons are of doubtful quality and might even end up backfiring. And lastly, like all great crisis, there is a sticker price on this one that is liable to give even fire breathers pause.
The Abbott Government has made a point to shock more than awe in its short time in office. (It is hard to be awed by the Prime Minister, whose behaviour has been expected.) It has taken the program of the previous Labor government further in chastising and banishing asylum seekers. It has created seemingly insuperable legal barriers in arriving, legitimately, to Australia. It has grovelled and fawned before US power interests while dismissing concerns of unwarranted mass surveillance. It has taken the hammer to affordable education, proposed increases in the costs of medical services and funnelled more money into defence.
Then came the announcement, made in somewhat hushed tones, that 500 Afghans, many of them involved in interpreting duties for the Australian Defence Force, have been resettled in Australia. For Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, “This policy reflects Australia’s fulfilment of its moral obligation to those who provided invaluable support to Australia’s efforts in Afghanistan.”
The overriding question is how will the U.S. clearly define moderate opposition groups operating in Syria? That has become a major difficulty as well in Libya. Rebel groups break down into tribes, clans, and broader religious factions—some with fundamentalist beliefs, while others have a more radical interpretation of Islam which includes armed jihad. In any event we do not know their ultimate goals. A Muslim diplomat once told me it is difficult to know the mission of a person carrying a weapon: “When they come, they also bring their behavior with them. There is one baggage that doesn’t weigh much–it is the behavior that is inside of them–the behavior in their mind–the attitude that they have. We can search their pockets for weapons–and see the one’s on their shoulders–but we cannot search their mind.”
Syria over the last three years has been in a chaotic civil war in which no one has clearly defined the “moderate” opposition that could rule democratically, if we take out President Bashar al-Assad. I have written articles suggesting, “regime change without an endgame plan is fraught with disaster,” as we witnessed in Libya after the U.S.-NATO incursion in 2011 that led to the downfall of the ruler Col. Muammar Gadhafi. Armed Islamist militias have since taken over large swaths of the country.
I was rather beguiled at first by President Obama’s commencement speech at West Point.
Not just because everybody else dumped all over it, and I wanted to exercise my contrarian’s prerogative to defend the indefensible. It’s because the central premise—what I call the Obama Doctrine—is rather attractive to me: “Here’s my bottom line: America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will. The military that you have joined is, and always will be, the backbone of that leadership. But U.S. military action cannot be the only — or even primary — component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”