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Thursday, November 15, 2012

U.S. picks up the tab for China's security


All right, kids, we’ll begin our class on world affairs, with an article from today’s Herald Tribune.
It says that the United States is sending robotic mine clearing equipment to help protect tanker traffic through the Straits of Hormuz, in the event the Iranians try to block that waterway. Those narrow Straits, you’ll remember, are how most of the oil from the Middle East and the Gulf is shipped to the world.
Protecting them is the main reason that the United States maintains a large naval base in Bahrain for its aircraft carriers and destroyers and mine sweepers and so on. All this costs us tens of billions of dollars a year. But we’ve always been told that it’s worth it.
Back in 1980, Jimmy Carter warned that the U.S. would go to war to protect that vital region. That kind of thinking got the U.S. involved in two hugely expensive Gulf wars, and it has remained bedrock policy.
This past September, for instance, the U.S. carried out a massive joint naval exercise in the Gulf. Among the other countries practicing what they would do to keep the Straits open in the event of hostilities, were the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Yemen, Jordan, New Zealand, Estonia, Netherlands, Italy, Australia, Canada—but, apparently, not China.

Which, kids, is kind of ironic—Why?

Because with the huge increase in domestic petroleum production, the U.S. will soon no longer rely at all on the Gulf. In fact, the country for whom the region and the Straits of Hormuz are essential for its petroleum needs is China.
You would think Americans would be furious that they’re paying huge sums for China’s oil security. Indeed, following Jimmy Carter’s logic, it’s the Chinese who should carry the burden of patrolling the Gulf. But that specter terrifies many American officials.
In the same way, you would think the U.S. might welcome China’s new naval modernization program. They don’t. In fact—though the U.S. navy is much mightier than China’s, many—like Mitt Romney—argue that the U.S. should ramp up its own naval program to keep far ahead of the Chinese.
But, wait, the story is even more complicated: The reason the U.S. navy is bringing that sophisticated new mine clearing equipment to the Gulf is to free up other U.S. ships currently patrolling those waterways. Free them up to go where?
To the Pacific—to join the forces that Obama is shifting to the region to confront-----the Chinese.
O.K. class. Any questions?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

It's The Sex, Stupid!



After an interminable presidential campaign, in which many of the basic questions facing the U.S. were ignored or glossed over, there’s nothing like a smarmy sex scandal to get Americans to finally zero in on fundamental issues: like should one of America’s most vaunted military leaders, General David Petraeus have resigned because of an adulterous liaison with Paula Broadwell, his sometime jogging partner and biographer? Or, how exactly was Petraeus able to arrange for Ms. Broadwell to be in Afghanistan at the same time that he was?  Or, who was the FBI agent who sent bare-chested pictures of himself to Jill Kelley a Florida housewife, also, somehow, involved in the affair?  Or why exactly did General John Allen, the head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, become such an active email buddy of the attractive Mrs. Kelley?   

It goes without saying that talk shows hosts and news editors are much more interested in tempting their public with the red meat of what could be mistaken for a new hit cable TV series, than focusing instead on the fact that General Petraeus’ strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan were not, in the long term, a stunning success. Those directing our media might also consider the remarkable fact that General Allen is the fifth—that’s right the fifth—American general to be running that war, now in its 11th year, yet was one of those subjects—along with climate change--never seriously debated--in the presidential campaign.

Instead of clucking over the thousands of emailed pages that General Allen sent to Mrs. Kelley, they might highlight the fact that 68,000 American soldiers are among the 100,000 Nato troops still fighting in Afghanistan and that, despite the U.S. having spent 400 billion dollars on the Afghan war effort, the Taliban are still firmly entrenched.

And further, even as the President Obama warns it may be necessary to bite the bullet and cut back on vital domestic programs, the U.S.is still pouring two billion dollars a week into an Afghan conflict that no one feels is winnable.

As remarkable as a catfight between two women over an American general, is the fact that U.S. military planners are still talking about leaving a “follow-on force” of some 15-20,000 American troops in Afghanistan ---even after 2014!  This in a land where corruption is rampant, billions in U.S. funds have simply disappeared, and the security forces that the U.S. has already worked so hard to build are as a much a threat to their American trainers as is the Taliban.

As for the huge sums in aid that the U.S. has spent so far to get Afghanistan back on its feet, a recent Congressional Research Service report concluded, “Even if these economic efforts succeed, Afghanistan will likely remain dependent on billions in U.S. foreign aid indefinitely."

Instead of salivating over other recent tales of adulterous military commanders, the media might look at the underlying premises of American Exceptionalism driving its foreign policy. That ideology, in the end, is what continues to fuel the endless War against Terror, justifies the more than 1,000 military bases the U.S. has abroad, and creates the need for American soldiers to be absent from their mates for so long and so often

Instead of seeing who can be the first to get THE interview with Petraeus or Broadwell, network TV star reporters might assign some of their staff to prepare a report on the outrageous phenomenon that while, over the past ten years, the U.S. has spent literally trillions of dollars supposedly to safeguard America’s strategic interests and trade routes in the Middle East and Central Asia, the Chinese, without trying to overthrow any regimes, dispatch any boots on the ground, or Predators in the air, continue to make huge commercial inroads throughout those same regions.
Now we have a new Whac-a-Mole situation:  As U.S. forces finally withdraw from Afghanistan, many of them transferred to the Pacific to meet a supposed Chinese threat—the Chinese are already poised to fill the vacuum in Afghanistan, not with their military, but with huge new contracts in that mineral rich country.

As the U.S. leaves, “the Chinese”, according to one recent report, “will become the dominant power in Afghanistan.”
In fact, if they weren’t so besotted with sexy new terms like “The Bathsheba Syndrome” , [go ahead, check the link] our talk show hosts might consider whether President Obama’s new buildup in the Pacific, rather than convincing the Chinese to back off their own military spending and claims to mineral resources in the South China Sea, might actually trigger a totally opposite response: a potentially disastrous arms race between the globes two major powers.
America’s opinion makers might take a breather from the Petraeus sex caper to focus on such issues…but don’t hold your breath.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Saudi-Israeli Nexus (2)



“What was the real cost for not recognizing Israel in 1948 and why didn’t the Arab states spend their assets on education, health care, and the infrastructures instead of wars? But the hardest question that no Arab national wants to hear is whether Israel is the real enemy of the Arab world and the Arab people.”

A quote from an Aipac press release or a briefing from Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Nethanyahu?   Guess again. These questions are posed not by a source we would normally think of as sympathetic to Israel, but in a recent column in the major English-language newspaper in Saudi Arabia, the Arab News--a paper controlled by the son of the Crown Prince; the author, retired Saudi naval Commodore Abdulateef Al-Mulhim

His premise: that it’s not Israel and its American ally responsible for the current plight of the Arab world, but the Arabs themselves-specifically, their leaders.
 
“…the destruction and the atrocities are not done by an outside enemy. The starvation, the killings and the destruction in these Arab countries are done by the same hands that are supposed to protect and build the unity of these countries and safeguard the people of these countries….

“The Arab world wasted hundreds of billions of dollars and lost tens of thousands of innocent lives fighting Israel, which they considered is their sworn enemy, an enemy whose existence they never recognized. The Arab world has many enemies and Israel should have been at the bottom of the list. The real enemies of the Arab world are corruption, lack of good education, lack of good health care, lack of freedom, lack of respect for the human lives and finally, the Arab world had many dictators who used the Arab-Israeli conflict to suppress their own people. These dictators’ atrocities against their own people are far worse than all the full-scale Arab-Israeli wars.”

“Finally, if many of the Arab states are in such disarray, then what happened to the Arabs’ sworn enemy (Israel)? Israel now has the most advanced research facilities, top universities and advanced infrastructure. Many Arabs don’t know that the life expectancy of the Palestinians living in Israel is far longer than many Arab states and they enjoy far better political and social freedom than many of their Arab brothers. Even the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip enjoy more political and social rights than some places in the Arab World.”

In another column, the Saudi Commodore speculated on what would have happened if, rather than attacking the Zionist state, the Arab countries had recognized Israel back in May 14, 1948. The result he claimed would have been better for all parties concerned, particularly the Arabs:

 “…the Palestinians would have been able to free themselves from the hollow promises of Arab dictators who kept telling them the refugees would be back in their homes, all Arab lands would be liberated and Israel would be sent to the bottom of the sea. Some Arab leaders used the Palestinians to suppress their own people and stay in power.
“Since 1948, if an Arab politician wanted to be a hero, he had an easy way of doing it. He just needed to shout as loud as he could about his intention to destroy Israel, without mobilizing a single soldier (talk is cheap.” 

The history of the entire region would have been radically changed, according to this column: among 
other benefits, there would have been no Nasser, no Saddam Hussein, no Muammar al-Gaddafi.

“Even a non-Arab country (Iran) used Palestine to divert its people from internal unrest. I remember Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini declaring that he would liberate Jerusalem via Baghdad, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad making bellicose statements about Israel, though not even a firecracker was fired from Iran toward Israel.

“Now, the Palestinians are on their own; each Arab country is busy with its own crisis – from Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Jordan, Somalia, Algeria, Lebanon and the Gulf states.”
Intrigued, I called the retired Commodore to ask if he’d had any problems publishing such outspoken views in what is essentially a semi-official Saudi publication. None at all, he said.

“This is read by many from the Saudi Royal family. Nobody was upset. If they were, they would have told me not to write my weekly articles any more. But they haven’t I’ve never been stopped. That doesn’t mean that they agree with it.  It’s an idea that they are interested in having out there.”

On the other hand, when you stop to think about it, such apparently pro-Israeli views in the semi-official Saudi media are not at all that surprising.

One of the most curious of alliances in the Middle East have been the clandestine goings on between the Zionist State of Israel and the Saudi royal family, the guardians of Mecca, among the most conservative of Arab monarchs. As I wrote in a previous blog, that relationship is based on a venerable political tenet:  the enemy of my enemy is my friend. The common enemy, in this case, being Iran, radical Islam, and the political upheaval known as the Arab Spring.

Both Israel and the Saudi royals are threatened by the rise of Iran, the crumbling of the old order, the end of brutal dictators, the explosion of popular political and religious passions.

This is true, even though the Saudis (and Qataris) helped finance the fall of Gaddafi, who they despised, and are backing the rebels in Syria against Assad. They hope to use their money and influence to control the outcomes, to safeguard their own monarchies.

Though Commodore Al-Mulhim decries the brutalities of dictators like Assad, Nasser, and Gaddafi, other columns speaks glowingly of the traditional links between the Saudi people and their benevolent royal family.
The continued political turbulence stoked by the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is also a threat to the Saudi 
royals. And the Commodore’s tough-worded critique of the Arabs’ refusal to recognize Israel dovetails perfectly well with a peace plan the Saudis first put on the table in 2002. In exchange for the Arab states normalizing relations with Israel , Israel would withdrawal to the 1967 borders.  
Indeed, over the years, the Israelis have joined forces clandestinely with the Saudis to take on other mutual enemies.

In 1962, for instance, when civil war broke out after the monarch was toppled in Yemen, a coalition of the Mossad, the Saudis, and the British SAS took on rebels backed by the armed forces of Egypt’s President Nasser.

Again in Beirut in March 8,1985 the Saudis and the Mossad joined in an attempt to assassinate Muhammad Fadlallah, the cleric who founded Hezbollah. According to Bob Woodward, William Casey then director of the CIA claimed that the Saudis helped organize placement of an explosives-laden vehicle, which went off in front of Fadlallah’s home. Several buildings collapsed,80 people were killed, but Fadlallah survived.

It’s a good bet that similar clandestine adventures between the Israelis and the Saudis continue to this day.