Category Archives: Military

About last night: What is the Trump foreign policy? (updated)

The other day I posed the question about the Trump administration’s nascent foreign policy: “Are we now going from the Realpolitik foreign policy announced just last week, as the New York Times analyzes today, For Trump, a Focus on U.S. Interests and a Disdain for Moralizing, to a return to the Bush Doctrine of unilateral military action?”

With last night’s impulsive “do something” missile strikes on a Syrian air base, we still do not have an answer. Acting on Instinct, Trump Upends His Own Foreign Policy.

The New York Times analyzes, Trump’s Far-Right Supporters Turn on Him Over Syria Strike:

Some of President Trump’s most ardent campaign supporters were among his most vocal opponents on Thursday after he ordered the missile strike against Syria, charging him with breaking his promise to keep the United States out of another conflict in the Middle East.

Prominent writers and bloggers on the far right attacked Mr. Trump. They accused him of turning against his voters by waging an attack that he had for years said would be a terrible idea. They also criticized him for launching the strike without first seeking congressional approval — something he said on Twitter in 2013 would be a “big mistake.”

The most vocal in their outrage were leaders from the small but influential white nationalist movement.

Paul Joseph Watson, an editor at the conspiracy theorist site Infowars, said on Twitter that Trump “was just another deep state/neocon puppet.” He added, “I’m officially OFF the Trump train.”

Richard Spencer, a far-right activist and white nationalist who coined the term “alt-right,” said he condemned the attack and hinted at supporting another presidential candidate in 2020: Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a Democrat. Ms. Gabbard met with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria in January and on Thursday criticized the missile strike as shortsighted and reckless.

For some on the far right, particularly those who are pro-Russia, Mr. Trump’s strike crossed a [red] line.

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Syrian war crimes, Russian complicity, and the U.S. response

Last week, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, announced a major shift in U.S. Policy towards Syria: U.S. priority on Syria no longer focused on ‘getting Assad out’:

The United States’ diplomatic policy on Syria for now is no longer focused on making the war-torn country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, leave power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said on Thursday, in a departure from the Obama administration’s initial and public stance on Assad’s fate.

The view of the Trump administration is also at odds with European powers, who insist Assad must step down. The shift drew a strong rebuke from at least two Republican senators.

“You pick and choose your battles and when we’re looking at this, it’s about changing up priorities and our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley told a small group of reporters.

“Do we think he’s a hindrance? Yes. Are we going to sit there and focus on getting him out? No,” she said. “What we are going to focus on is putting the pressure in there so that we can start to make a change in Syria.”

In Ankara on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Assad’s longer-term status “will be decided by the Syrian people.

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Centennial Commemoration of U.S. entry into World War I

This week marks the centennial anniversary of the United States entry into World War I, the “Great War” and the “war to end all wars.” Lest we forget, World War I and its consequences shaped the events to follow in the 20th Century.

Surprisingly, this centennial anniversary has received little to no attention in the American media.

Yesterday, April 2, was the anniversary of President Woodrow Wilson asking Congress for a declaration of war against Germany. It went without notice in the American media. Wilson asks for declaration of war:

On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to send U.S. troops into battle against Germany in World War I. In his address to Congress that day, Wilson lamented it is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war. Four days later, on April 6, Congress obliged and declared war on Germany.

In February and March 1917, Germany, embroiled in war with Britain, France and Russia, increased its attacks on neutral shipping in the Atlantic and offered, in the form of the so-called Zimmermann Telegram, to help Mexico regain Texas, New Mexico and Arizona if it would join Germany in a war against the United States. The public outcry against Germany buoyed President Wilson in asking Congress to abandon America’s neutrality to make the world safe for democracy.

Wilson went on to lead what was at the time the largest war-mobilization effort in the country’s history. At first, Wilson asked only for volunteer soldiers, but soon realized voluntary enlistment would not raise a sufficient number of troops and signed the Selective Service Act in May 1917. The Selective Service Act required men between 21 and 35 years of age to register for the draft, increasing the size of the army from 200,000 troops to 4 million by the end of the war.

More than four million American families sent their sons and daughters to serve in uniform during the Great War. 116,516 U.S. soldiers gave their lives in combat. Another 200,000 were wounded (a casualty rate far greater than in World War II).

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The gloomy conditions in Afghanistan

Democracy is said to be in decline around the world. According to a report by Freedom House, only 45% of the world’s countries are considered to be fully free and the percentage is trending downward. The volatile situation in Afghanistan is proof that a functioning democracy is a tough thing to create. The invasion by U.S. and NATO forces in December 2001 quickly drove the Taliban and their al-Qaida allies from power. After more than 15 years of nation building effort by NATO, the UN reported that almost 3,500 civilians were killed and 7,900 injured in the Afghan conflict during 2016. It was the highest number of civilian casualties since the UN began keeping records in 2009.

The American plan to replace Taliban rule with a democratically elected government ran into many problems. The flood of foreign cash that followed the demise of the Taliban regime in 2001 often undermined the new government or was wasted on uncoordinated projects. Well-meaning foreign aid agencies paid salaries 20 times higher than the Afghan civil service pay rate, many Afghan officials quit and went to work for the external agencies. As fighting the Taliban insurgency continues, NATO forces have dropped from a peak of 132,000 in 2011 to approximately 13,000 today. The U.S. and NATO mission in Afghanistan is estimated to have cost nearly $1 trillion between 2001 and 2014.

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Winds of War

I stole the title from a friend’s Facebook post. I doubt he’ll mind.

He and I had the identical reaction to Trump’s speech to CPAC on Friday, in which Trump declared that America is about to undergo the greatest military buildup in history. Military buildups have one and only one purpose: going to war. That’s especially true when the nation embarking on the buildup already has the largest and most advanced military in the world, with most of the world’s other large fighting forces aligned with its own.

Worse yet, Trump, who expressed puzzlement at America’s no first strike policy regarding nuclear weapons, has promised a buildup in nuclear weaponry as well.

The only real questions are who and when. Iran? China? Mexico?

These are, as the saying goes, “interesting times.”

And we’re living in them.

The lingering legacy of 1917

The world changing events brought on by World War I continued to unfold at a rapid pace in 1917. The United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, the first U.S. troops arrived in France in June. Mutiny became a problem that vexed the struggling French Army. In the Middle East, British forces captured Baghdad. Large battles were fought on the Western Front, including Arras, the Neville offensive, Messines Ridge, the third battle of Ypres. In the south, fighting raged in Northern Italy. The belligerents who found it so easy to glide into war in 1914, found themselves trapped in endless combat with high casualties, growing economic hardship and for some, the waning support of their populations.

In the east, Russia, a vast and backward country, was a participant in the Allied war effort. It was also the first of the belligerents to fracture apart under the terrible strains imposed by the war. In March 1917, the riots and strikes that began in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) toppled the government and resulted in the abdication of Tsar Nicolas II. A Provisional Government headed by Alexander Kerensky replaced the failed Tsarist regime. The Kerensky government decided to keep Russia active in the war, fighting on the side of the Allied powers.

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