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Thursday, October 26, 2006

War on Terror Enters Second Quarter; Team USA Tiring

This post focuses on the military limits which the US must now accept in its War on Terror. The seeds of the present failure have been instilled by inadequate planning and politicization of military decisions and policy.

Unfortunately for the White House--and much more significantly, the leadership that must follow them--our enemies in the Middle East held back, and have waited until now to release the full fury. The Taliban have regrouped and are entering Afghanistan, armed with weapons purchased by sales of heroin from Afghan poppy.

Their strike couldn't be timed better. Our troops have bogged down in Iraq and their equipment is breaking down. The US can barely meet its commitments to protect fledgling governments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not a single combat brigade is available for duty.


A key geographic ally in the War on Terror, Pakistan is playing both sides, appeasing tribal forces internally while placating the Bush Administration and its tough-on-terror rhetoric. Pakistan recently capitulated to the tribal forces, signing an agreement on September 5th which more or less acknowledged the inability of Musharraf's government to root out the Taliban.

I came across an article in the UK's Independent talking about the Taliban's resurgence:

"Recently, the 'Waziristan accord', which has seen Pakistani forces withdraw from parts of the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, has made it even easier for the Taliban to manoeuvre."[Source]

Pakistan's infirmity needs to be understood. The inability of its military to patrol its side of the Afghan border means supplies will freely pour into that country indefinitely to support the Taliban and kill American soldiers. Any student of military history knows that the Soviet Union suffered a defeat in Afghanistan to the same mujahdeen we now face, who were supplied via many of the same routes from Pakistan as being used by the Taliban. The failure to interdict supplies flowing down the Ho Cho Minh trail led to perpetual resupply of the Viet Cong and directly contributed to our defeat in Vietnam.


I see a central purpose of this blog to provide information unavailable in the Mainstream Media. The conglomerates that control the flow of information to the American public were complicit in the War on Iraq by silencing dissent and doubt and accepting as unvarnished truth the allegations made concerning the presence of WMD in Iraq.

While the same media may be less receptive to the war now, it's the truly ugly reality that the War on Terror cannot be won that they now seek to avoid revealing, perhaps in part due to their complicity in hiding the truth in the leadup to the Iraq War. The public is left to feed on a diluted stream of half-truths and denials, while the real strategic and military consequences of launching the Terror War go unaddressed.

Pakistan's acquiescence is an excellent example of selective non-coverage. That failure alone could lead to our defeat in Afghanistan, which would represent a victory for "terrorists," which is the label the Adminstration has slapped on all Muslims who confront the US in the region.

Vietnam Redone

Reports emerging from Afghanistan could have been written during Vietnam. The tactics of the Taliban are in some ways identical to the VC; the players and places may change but the conduct of counterinsurgency warfare persists more or less intact.

I was struck by parallels to Vietnam when I read in the Independent article that the Taliban "demand and get food and shelter wherever they stop, but it is impossible to say how enthusiastic the villagers really are."

I can see a Taliban fighter's shadow crossing the scared faces of an Afghan peasant family as he enters their hut. Daughters, particularly those of age, would undoubtedly be shuffled off, to avoid offending the Taliban's covenants against mixing of the sexes. The welcoming would no doubt be profuse, motivated by the family's desire to appease their guest as he lays his gun down, day's work done.

It's an image of victory for our enemies, not persay on the battlefield, but in the hearts and minds. "We are of you and you of us, and the Occupier is not of us but the enemy of God," their indocrinationed might say. Nowhere could propensity for mutual reliance be clearer than in the tribal regions of mountainous Afghanistan where non-believers have now come, like the Soviets did. Every occupier since Alexander has fallen; perhaps Bush's ego yearns for a place alongside Alexander in the fables of conquerors.

Strategically, guerilla movements need support of the population to sustain themselves. As with Vietnamese resistance, "Taliban always valued speed and mobility...Few carry any possessions other than weapons." So too did the Vietnamese rely on strategically pre-positioned weapons caches.

Many of the villagers whose huts served as weapons and ammunition storage for the VC were undoubtedly coerced. As we see so often in counter-insurgency warfare--and saw in Oliver Stone's "Platoon"--the reaction of the occupying force is typically to torch the village, perhaps committing other atrocities, perhaps not.

The insurgency feeds off the Occupier's retaliation against the insurgent's
"support" base. In this way, the wholesale levelling of villages and forced relocation of indigents contributes to the greater chaos, feeds off it, and broadens the war's footprint. The scene in "Apocalypse Now" where Vietnamese villagers are herded off in tooth-fronted amphibious craft in the wake of a battle pokes at the man-made refugee crisis resulting from heavy-handed counterinsurgency tactics.

Fallujah's flattening is the present day equivalent. Those that stay live like rats, their hatred of the Occupation made ever greater. Over 1.6 million Iraqis have been forced to flee the country.[UK Independent, Fee-Based Link] Shia militia have taken over entire cities, which hardly bodes well for the rule of secular central authority after the US leaves.

Violence by the Occupier demonstrates the failure of peaceful alternatives, and so the military is forced to display signs of progress made under the Occupation, which became like the bridge over the Mekong in "Apocalypse Now", attacked nightly by the VC and rebuilt during the day.

The Taliban's nightmarish resurgence resurrects visions of Vietnam, and for the younger among us, vivid cutscenes of violence and mayhem. War's inherent violence is ingratiated in our young, who've been desensitized to it by video games and movies, but the true horror of counterinsurgency warfare lies in the personal experiences of those involved.
Like Vietnam, an entire generation of soldiers could be lost, given over to the "1,000 yard stare," Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In this sense the toll a war extracts continues for decades, those who succumb suffering hallucinations and isolation with the possibility of psychotic episodes. However, unlike Vietnam we are now aware of the disease, thanks in large part to the experiences of Vietnam veterans, many of whom endured the psychological condition stoically and silently, receiving neither recognition nor treatment from the Veteran's Administration.

Insurgent Tactics

Traps set by the Vietcong accounted for a majority casualites in Vietnam, just as Improvised Explosive Devices now do in Iraq. The use of remote or pre-set weaponry is the perfect assymetrical response to tactical superiority. A soldier's level of training can do little to spot IED's, his equipment and vehicle may save his life but can likely do little to prevent the IED from successfully working.

It's hard to know who you fight in an insurgency. In many cases, the enemy finds you before you find them. And even when discovering an enemy, proving he's the enemy is virtually impossible. Likewise, distinguishing enemies from friendlies is impossible. Arbitrary detention or acts of violence simply strengthen the resistance, as we saw in Abu Ghraib.

Iraq is a perfect example of a hostile land where we can do nothing to separate the bad from the good. Every innocent lost or injured contributes to ever greater chaos and anarchy dominates. Unlike Vietnam, Iraq's spiral out of control is a consequence the insurgents can accept. There is apparently no source of nationalism in Iraq powerful enough to prevent Sunni and Shia from fighting each other.

It's been suggested here on this blog that the US might be formenting ethnic discord to justify its ongoing presence, but largely discounted. Anarchy serves no cause nor master, so therefore cannot be the end goal of any organized group. And the US has committed itself to defend the Iraqi regime. A state of ongoing chaos undermines the establishment of any credible government, which diminishes the value of whatever military effort we make there.

The strategies of insurgent warfare morph; insurgents don't conduct themselves according to any fixed strategy like the Soviet doctrine used by Saddam's conventional army in '91. This isn't to say their tactics weren't predictable. Our military failed to anticipate an insurgent threat of the magnitude we now face and simply didn't plan for it. Inadequately planned, our military cannot win in Iraq or Afghanistan. Without the ability to anticipate threats, it cannot serve its most basic function to defend us.

The Pentagon apparently failed to innoculate itself from the dangerous concept that a war's outcome is predictable. No one side is automatically granted victory, no matter how much stronger they seem. It's too bad that the 9/11 reflex action came at the cost of adequate planning, the price will be measured in dead Americans whose lives could have been saved by simply anticipating the worst.

Our military coach must have found the roar of the crowd irresistible and sent our team out on the field, without a game plan to last beyond the first quarter, on account of how weak the other team was thought to be. Apparently, the coach of the "Terrorists" had a plan all along: bench his strongest players, then bring them out, fully rested, at the start of the second quarter. By then, the opposing coach, wearing the fearsome letters OBL, must have surmised that the visiting team would start to tire, and their injuries add up. The Americans' once-pristine equipment would fray and their shoes fill with sand from the Terrorist's home field, this their coach OBL must have known.

Failure of Force

Persistent and unrestricted warfare benefits the cause of the insurgency. The conflict's longetivity attests to the ineffectiveness of bombing and other displays of superior military might by the US. The failure of the US' grotesque strategic advantage to translate into results on the ground reveals the inherent fallibility of the war machine and by proxy its impotence, building confidence among the resistance.

The indiscriminate use of force and its inevitable collateral damage encourage the populace to resist by radicalizing and militarizing resistance. Bombing, even by multi-billion dollar stealth bombers and laser-guided munitions, always causes civilian casualties. Every non-combatant death translates into stronger resistance. I would argue that much of the military's considerable effort to curb collateral damage reflects this cold strategic calculation, rather than any moral imperative to limit damage.

As we saw in the Israeli war on Lebanon, and Vietnam, air power alone was incapable of achieving victory on the ground. The value of bombing may lie more with its "shock and awe", or intimidation value. There can be lasting repercussions from the use of Depleted Uranium and cluster bomblets, both made in the US, with the detonation "failure" rate on the latter as high as 40% (Boston Globe article], and multi-generational health effects from the former. Both weapons are genocidal and their use constitutes a war crime. Israel dropped over 1 million cluster bomb munitions in the closing days of its attack on Lebanon, according to the Boston Globe article. The US has made Depleted Uranium a mainstay of its arsenal despite its effects on Gulf War veterans, over 1/3 of whom are now on full medical disability.[Link]

Preventable Miscalculations

What's so amazing is the shortsightedness of the military in involving us in Afghanistan and Iraq. It's as if the rules of warfare apply only in hindsight and were ritually ignored in pre-invasion planning. Did no military attache or metal-chested general consider the most fundamental realities of counterinsurgency warfare in the post-9/11 period? Our military machine must have grown so confident in making fanciful projections of easy victory as to ignore what came after. After what could puny Iraqi do to stop us?

A blind army can achieve none of its goals. Some attribute the complete failure to anticipate the scope of the resistance as the result of the conversion of our Armed Services into a neo-colonial force design to protect commercal interests in Afghanistan. These theories purport that the US seeks to dominate the Middle East militarily in order to exploit energy resources.

Several posts back, I alluded to some posts from 2002 that talked about the natural gas pipeline Rice and others in the Administration wanted built in Afghanistan, leading to threats to invade as early as Summer 2001, well before 9/11.

Whatever the validity of oil and natural gas seizure theories, the fact that the US cannot defeat the insurgencies proves that the invasions were ill-conceived. Pipelines are notoriously vulnerable to attack. By co-opting the military's common sense--sacrificing it on the altar of election politics--the entire war planning system broke down, creating the seed of failure we now see fully flowering in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Brave not only in war, but in telling the truth, duty-bound soldiers like Gen. Shinseki put their careers on the line to tell the truth. Pentagon czar Donald Rumsfeld purged any voices of pragmatism in the lead-up to the Iraq war, in part to actualize his theories on the effectiveness of a slimmed down military.

The traps of counterinsurgent warfare aka Vietnam must have been clear. Behind the scenes, truthtellers must have sending warning signs about Afghanistan, and Iraq as well. Some must have suspected that the ease of the invasion in Afghanistan may have had more to do with the insurgents' desire to run and fight another day than with the invincibility of our legions.

Vietnam veteran Colin Powell did talk about the challenges of fixing a broken Iraq. But the Colin Powells were turned aside in an internal struggle to gain the President's ear. Pragmatism perished in the roaring enthusiasm of war fever, and with it any hope of devleoping a winning strategy. The Cheney-Rumsfeld axis clearly won, to the detriment of caution, planning and future military success. The war-crazed element triumphed in Iraq, having never been challenged in its just war in Afghanistan, a war launched on the premise that radicals under the direction of cave-bound OBL were by their efforts alone capable of 9/11.

Playing Politics

Rumsfeld defused any healthy skeptism over the long-term viability of an Iraqi occupation. Cheney may have cooperated in outing Plame, who may have been uncovering weak or false intelligence about Iraqi WMD touted by the Administration in the course of her work in counterproliferation at the CIA. At the very least, the most militant elements of the Administration coddled any intelligence they could find to support the war, which had been set as a political goal from the earliest days of the Bush Administration. Bush odious plan to attack Iraq led him to clamor for a slam dunk case from CIA Director Tenet in the days after 9/11.

Post 9/11, the authority of the political had merged with that of the military, creating a monster not unlike what is seen in fascist societies where political leadership unites with nationalistic militarism, and the two nourish each other.

The Iraqi invasion shows the sacrifice of pragmatism for the benefits of political expediency; the viability of our current military strategy in Iraq pays the price. With political leadership dominating the military, the domestic political benefits of launching overshadowed the geopolitical and military consequences of using force.

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage the US military now has on the battlefield are the limitations of its political leadership, chief among them the inability to admit failure. The synergy between the White House and Pentagon which served the institutions so well in launching a war of choice has created the seeds of an epic failure. Our ship is now immutably tied to the docks of newly minted regimes in the Middle East who've emerged in the wake of our invasions, miring us in not one but two open-ended and unwinnable land wars in Asia.

The damage is now clear to see. Those responsible for launching the invasion will most likely avoid paying a price for their short-sighted recklessness. The Pentagon recently announced their committment to Iraq past 2010, as if it were the strategic impetus and momentum that shaped our policy, not our Congress in accordance with the will of the people. We can and should leave when Congress says so. The idea that we must maintain some forward posture indefinitely is undemocratic, counterproductive, and denies the exclusive Constitutional right of the Congress to wage war.

Our military must be vulnerable indeed to succumb to political pressures even at the expense of lives and inevitable defeat. Many more must have simply followed orders than honestly disclosed the travails ahead, thereby jeopardizing their careers. Perhaps the Pentagon succumbed to the allure of war money, perhaps those responsible for leading our military saw a lucrative future working for the war profiteers who'd hire them once they'd retired comfortably.

Whatever it took to buy off our military could never be enough. Perhaps the concept of a political commander-in-chief needs to be revised. The position of the Chief Executive atop the military was originally meant to keep the power of the armed forces in check; perhaps we now need to contain political bonding between with the Pentagon, on behalf of our collective security.

Public Image

Polls drive this very media-centric White House, and in formulating their plans for Iraq they saw their re-election. The popular perception of military invulnerability and the righteousness of our cause contributed to the rampant militarism and a lack of introspection or restraint in using military force. A vote of support for military intervention in Iraq was sold as a vote for the troops and against terror.

Afghanistan had been too easy; what's more the media-fixated White House must have know something like 70% of American held Saddam responsible for 9/11. [USA Today Poll] What better low hanging fruit on the political grapevine than an Iraqi invasion, to secure the victory in '04?

Whether the victory they got in 2004 was directly traceable to launching a war in Iraq remains to be proven, as does the validity of that election itself as votes were discarded and miscalculated, exit polls violated, and rampant misconduct documented.

While the White House might now seem to be retreating somewhat from a "stay the course" position, inwardly they must be counting the hours until whatever accountability not subverted by Diebold confronts their Congressional allies in the election booth. Then they will have carte blanche once again.

It's also arguable that Democratic acquiescence to the War on Terror may have made political differences between the parties neglible; lackluster support for Lamont in his general election bid may show that the DNC's position on Iraq may be rhetorically prominent but represent not an alternative course going forward but rather a simple admission of past failures over which Democratic votes and an absence of true opposition prominently figured in. A vote for a clearly failed policy is one thing, the strength to confront the passions of war in their infancy another.

Subversion of our willingness and capacity to fight by politicians been cited as the cause of failure in Vietnam by Rush Limbaugh and those on the Right. Ironically, the inevitable defeat we now face, the cut and run, the tail between the legs and choppers leaving from the embassy roof, are what we now must come to grips with as a consequence of military force inadequately and haphazardly applied, for partisan political reasons.

It's a sad statement that the armed forces of the world's last superpower must dance at the whim of the political leadership. Our collective defense has been jeopardized by the failure of our military to articulate beforehand the consequences of invading Afghanistan and Iraq.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Tiger Who Couldn't Roar; US Foreign Policy Failures Emerge

North Korean's test and development of nuclear weapons is being toned down in the mainstream media. The response from the US has been slow in coming, perhaps not unlike the 9-11 reaction of the President to the news that "we are under attack". Calm and steady ahead appear to be his favored reaction to crisis as he read on to an audience of children in a Florida school for upwards of 7 minutes.

The North Korea crisis may be contrived. Blame has been tossed from Bush to Clinton; the fact remains that it was under Bush's watch that North Korea broke the seals on the fuel rods given to it in the Clinton Framework and reprocessed them. Bush has also failed to deter North Korea from testing a weapon. The US appears incapable of punishing North Korea for its test through the UN sanctions of questionable enforceability.

While our aggressive foreign policy may have motivated Pyong-yang to acquire weapons, someone else supplied the components and technology. They may have been supplied to North Korea from Pakistan. The Administration's counterproliferation effort backpedaled with Pakistan, in order to garner its support in the War on Terror in 2001.

In a section below, I reveal some alarming news about the connection between North Korea and Pakistan. In keeping with previous posts, I will try to defend earlier conclusions, in this case concerning Pakistan's suitability as an ally in the War on Terror.

The Administration's neo-con-dominated foreign policy has come at the expense of foreign policy pragmatism. Direct confrontation is purposefully not avoided, diplomatic methods scorned, largely for the benefit of a domestic audience on the Republican Right. Their opinions are crafted by hate mongers in Talk Radio, and libel the exercise of caution as weakness and the cause of dissent as betrayal. The President echoes their crass oversimplifications, linking the idea of a structured settlement or phased withdrawal "cut'n'run."

At this point admitting failure is more politically damaging than pretending we can win. Contorted into twisted sound bites, the Administration's foreign policy may appease the base, but the Global War On Terror is hardly functional. Iraqi casualties soar as (mostly) Republican corruption surfaces just short of the election.

On this blog, I've previously identified limitation imposed in the realms of military limits, geopolitics, image, and realpolitik.

This post focuses more on the gaping failure of US foreign policy to prevent the development and test of nuclear weapons by North Korea. Failing to lead the world in counterproliferation, the Administration has destabilized the Korean Peninsula and put Japan at risk.

North Korea is a threat, of this there is no doubt. What is less well understood, or publicized, is the issue of whether US foreign policy is to blame for the crisis.

Failure in Korea

There are three countries who show why the US' approach to North Korean is bound to fail: Israel, Iraq and Iran.

The first is Israel. Israel has been the subject of over 100 UN resolutions. As it is, the West Bank is being devoured by Jewish settlements indefiance of UN mandates. The failure of any UN resolution to restrain Israeli expansion or domination over its neighbors bodes poorly for the effectiveness of sanctions on North Korea.

I've read that Bush may have included North Korea in the Axis of Evil simply to make it look like we weren't find the enemies of Israel. The US probably hasn't launched an elective war exclusively on Israel's behalf, yet architects of the war are firmly connected to the State of Israel. For more, look at David Wurmser's A Clean Break, and Project for a New American Century.

Both strategic assessments focused on removing Saddam in Iraq and destabilizing the Mideast, a path that would benefit Israel's efforts to establish itself as the premier hegemon in the region. The former Number 2 in the Pentagon, David Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle have both worked on behalf of Israeli interests, with the influential Perle at one time employed by the Israeli government.

The extent to which pro-Israeli forces (and more specifically Zionist elements of the Israeli far right) have shaped US foreign policy is debated. The anti-Muslim zeal which the Administration embraces resembles perhaps not coincidentally with that of the Israeli Right. Iran is Israel's arch-enemy and its defeat or destabilization is a primary goal.

The US can't invade Iran, so any military option will be inadequate and would strengthen anti-American resolve. The consequences in Iraq would be dire, considering Iran's influence over the Shia there. Still, if peace in Iraq there benefits Iran, ongoing civil war could justify the occupation, although it would become increasingly costly in terms of lives and political fallout. If de-stabilization is the end-goal, a US attack may be successful in achieving policy goals, but bring far bigger problems in the theatre and beyond.

So Iraq provides a second example of why the US approach to North Korea won't work: militarily the US can't dominate. It can roar at Iran, and attack it from the air, but as we saw with Israel and Lebanon, air attacks alone can't produce a favorable outcome.
Substantive changes like regime swapping can only come from the effort of adequate numbers soldiers on the ground.

As we see in Iraq, inadequate troop force precludes the possibility of securing peace; the country isn't as homogeneous as Germany or Japan post-WWII. The threat we face is not in a fascist government; once trounced, a secular government is far easier to replace if the war-ravaged people there are receptive to a more democratic government. To function, a democratically elected government must re-establish security, i.e. with adequate troops, unlike what we've done in Iraq.

Geneva and International Law

The application of international law and treaty is a key qualification for success in Iraq.

As I've said, denying Geneva has led to two major policy flaws. The first is procedural: the Geneva Convention stipulates that the invader must return the invaded to a state of security equivalent to that which existed before invading.ignoring international law makes it hard for the Occupier to systematically manage the conquered country and transfer authority back to the Occupied. The Occupation is thus more likely to be prolonged and fiercely resisted.

The other main consequence of circumventing Geneva is the loss of international credibility. A just cause is not enough to legitimatize the Occupation of Iraq, or any occupation for that matter, in the eyes of the world community. This is the most fundamental miscalculation the Bush Administration made. While the domestic audience was susceptible to Rove's cunning strategies pandering to militarist and nationalist impulses, the international community was not.

We see the impact of go-it-alone and extralegal behaviour by US Occupying forces playing themselves out in the court of international public opinion. Iraq's legacy as a victim of US unilateralism and rampant military force feeds our enemies by weakening support for foreign policy goals in other parts of the world.

Multilateral efforts like those required for successful counter-proliferation have suffered. North Korea is an example of what can happen when the world community is incapable of preventing proliferation because its leader--the US--is off fighting a war of choice in Iraq, a war falsely justified on the same counter-proliferation argument.

Without broad international support, the effort to isolate North Korea will fail. The Administration has cried wolf, and expended whatever international credibility it had when its reasons for invading Iraq proved false.

Geopolitical Realities

In speaking on October 16th before her trip to Asia, Rice alluded to a "New Security Environment" in Northeast Asia. I find it ironic that the changes to the security atmosphere have been perpetuated by the North Koreans, and that the US is reacting, quite uncharacteristically from our behavior in the Middle East theatre.

The threat from North Korea is very real. They have managed to launch rockets over the Japanese Islands, and even tested a ballistic missile called the Taepodong-2, with a range of up to 9,300 miles, during the summer. It is more than possible that North Korea could put Tokyo under the threat of direct nuclear missile attack. Already Seoul is under the guns of the monolithic, militarized (Stalinist) state.

The Japanese have every right to be concerned. I was in the Tokyo area in 2002 when news of North Korean kidnappings of Japanese emerged. [They were later used to teach North Korean spies Japanese.] In numerous conversations with Japanese students, I came to learn that North Korea was considered far more threatening than Iraq. Fear among the Japanese wasn't confined to the egregious act of kidnapping, a North Korean missile was fired over the Japanese main island in 1998.

Yet the fear factor has been in large part ignored by Washington. This contrasts with its readiness to drum of fear for its War on Terror, which, in light of the weak response to North Korea, would make the War on Terror look to be more about Muslims than WMD.

The rhetoric about attacking Iraq "so they don't attack us here" neglects our commitments to our allies "over there," who happen to include the Japanese. The War on Terror's iidea of fighting them over there fails our allies miserably, perhaps like Secretary of State Acheson's failed to include South Korea in the US' arc of strategic defense encompassing Eastern Asia just prior to the North Koreans' attack in 1950.

International law is far less lenient in determining our reaction should North Korea strike. Our treaty obligations force our military to consider a North Korea missile strike--nuclear on not--on a Japanese city just like a strike on one of our cities. Yet there's no talk of the threat in these terms despite its magnitude or the apparent inability of our armed forces to take the threat off the table or respond conventionally.

Media Image and Policy Contradictions

On North Korean the US is passive, whereas the action on Iraqwas characterized as proactive or preemptive, as it is now on Iran. The Rovian spin machine seems lethargic vis-a-vis North Korean compared to the frothy war rhetoric churned out in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. The President listlessly acknowledged that the US has no change in policy in light of the "alleged" test.

In her press conference October 16th, Rice seemed in control, her face pleasantly absent of the contortions of rage we saw in the heated brinksmanship of mushroom clouds, devious Iraqi malfeasance, and UN non-compliance over inspections. Gone is the raging storm of outrage over the threat posed by WMD in Iraq, replaced by a very calm, rational diplomatic approach.

The desire to spin--in this case deny that the nuclear test happened--may have in fact damaged our capacity to react. We saw the same foot-dragging out of Bush and ice in reacting to Israel's attack on Lebanon. The White House spin machine succeeded in casting sufficient doubt over the tests to delay any meaningful action on the matter. In the intervening week, the North Koreans has seized on the delay to announce additional nuclear tests. Initiative is now completely on the side of the North Koreans and their despotic Dear Leader.

The irony of a rogue state developing WMD and flagrantly testing them really does make an superordinate anti-Muslim perrogative within the War on Terror likely. As I said in my last post, to be effective foreign policy must be consistently enforced and enforcable. I surmise one reason for neglecting North Korea (or at least tolerating its development of nukes) is that its regime wasn't likely to have well developed ties to terror groups on par with Iran or--more speculatively--Iraq, had they dealt in WMD.

The problem with the North Korean possession of nukes may not be possession of nukes, but rather a demonstrated--after the test--possession of nuclear weapons technology. I'm not a nuclear weapons expert, but I suspect the technology on how to build weapons is already out there and so the largest challenge is in acquiring components and processed nuclear matter. If this is the case, North Korea may pose a far more difficult challenge to counter-proliferation efforts through its provisioning of peripheral nuclear weapons components, some perhaps small and nearly impossible to track, than it could as a one-stop shop for pre-assembled nukes.

North Korea's test may forebode a similiar achievement by Iran. I've heard estimates for the development of an Iranian nuke as far as 5-10 years away. If you subtract the expected duration of hostilities pursuant to Bush's commitment to occupy Iraq "as long as it takes," US forces will be facing off against a nuclear power in Iran. This is hardly an enviable scenario for the sake of peace and stability, nor hardly a position of strength.

Perhaps the North Korean test is a preview of what will happen in Iran. In this sense, proliferation plays to the neo-con's ambitions by magnifying the threat and justifying their rhetoric. Even if Iran gets nukes it will be too late--or so is the neo-con's message now so clearly brought to light in Korea.

Facing a nuclear powered foe drastically alters the geopolitical dynamic, as North Korea and Iran must know. If our foreign policy plays a dangerous game, it's achieving little. The concept of preemption through military force has been decimated by Iraq. The limits to which our military force can be now deployed have been made clear to any belligerent.

By linking Iran and North Korea under the Axis, Bush perhaps unwittingly encouraged arms-sharing and mutual defense pacts between the two nations. Geopolitically, this is like applying the opposite of a divide-and-conquer strategy; it unifes enemies and congeals opposition to US foreign policy objectives. Why wouldn't North Korea share nuclear weapons technology with Iran?

The occupation of two of Iran's neighbors by the US military has made the Iran's pursuit and eventual acquisition of nuclear weapons a fait accompli. We've been told by the Pentagon that our presence in Iraq will last at least into 2010. (In failing to question the Pentagon's dictate, it seems the Mainstream Media has concluded that Congress or the President--who will presumably not be Bush but could be a Bush--doesn't decide how long our troops stay.)

The threat to Iran that the US poses militarily invites the country to develop a nuclear deterrent capability. Again, the spread of nukes arise as if were the intended consequence of our foreign policy. In a perfect loop, the urgent need for interdiction before development and testing justifies the aggressive stance espoused by the neo-cons who shaped our confrontational policies, which directly contribute to proliferation.

Bush's disengagement from diplomatic recourses with North Korea appears to be replicating itself in Iran, although there's no possibility of a digression from any kind of Agreed Framework with Iran as we have no diplomatic presence at all. Bush's approach to dealing with members of his Axis of Evil repudiates any direct communication; out of domestic political considerations, contemptuous it wants to seem for the practice of diplomacy, for fear of appearing weak against the threat (Goering.)

Avoiding attempts to resolve crisis through dialogue and the neo-conservative's contempt for diplomacy have made nuclear weapons development by Iran a fait accompli. This is perhaps the best justification for a continuation of the neo-cons' Wild and Unpredictable Adventure into the Mideast, where shooting first is thought to be the best approach to dealing with any difference of opinion, and where the use of military force thought to be the best solution, however judicious peaceful alternatives might be.

The greatest challenge with the use of military force is that it can be depleted. The soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are forced to go on multiple tours, so the US military has lost its all-volunteer composition. As we saw in Katrina and now the hawaii earthquake, National Guard units have been so depleted of their men and materiel as to fail in their most important purpose: guarding the Homeland.

Rice and Bush may say no military options are off the table, but there is no way we can intimidate. We can huff and puff, but we are helpless militarily except through nuclear weapons, which will blow back onto the faces of our friends the Japanese and Koreans. Our posture is hapless because our military is harmless and incapable of dominating a determined rag tag insurgency, much less a fanatical North Korean force.

China Wants, China Gets

Sanctions will prove unenforceable since we have no way of monitoring cross-border trade between Russia and China with whom North Korea shares borders.

While China did sign the UN's sanction, its ambassador began backing off the principle of sanctions almost immediately. While the Chinese have paid some lip service to the idea of inspecting cross-border shipments, there's no way to contain the flow of trade across the border.

To meet the trade sanctions, the Chinese need to be capable and willing to stop trade with North Korea, and the US appears incapable of telling China what to do. The US might be able to apply pressure on China through developing a global consensus, but America has no credibility to expend in the effort, having spent it on convincing the world that Iraq was a immediate threat.

Under the Shanghai Cooperative Organization, China and Russia have not been idle in developing an alternative to the unrestricted domination of the world's leadership paradigm by the US. The needless attack upon poor, indefensible Iraq by "the world's only superpower" has popularized the non-US-centric model offered by the SCO [see more below]. This phenomena is like that seen during the Cold War, when poorer 3rd World nations sought Soviet aid and weapons in exchange for sympathetic UN votes.

The Chinese have been busy making energy deals in East Africa and with Iran. Energy-hungry, they're hardly picky in choosing trading partners; human rights issues don't get in the way so any number of 3rd World countries will likely rally to the SCO banner. Already some nations in the Western Hemisphere like Venezuela have aligned themselves with the Chinese.

While most Americans might cast Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's anti-yankee rumblings aside, there is undeniably a highly credible anti-American movement occuring in South America. Like the Roman Empire, citizens on Pax Americana may not realize their vulnerability until the hordes are clamoring on our Southern border, like the Visigoths on the River Po. Already Mexico writhes in internal convulsions after a contested election, up and down Latin America impoverished masses call out for an alternative to the predatory capitalism and repressive militarization embraced by the American Right.

Limited Military Options, Grim Economic Realities

The most obvious use of the military is in the form of some kind of naval blockade. Unfortunately, that puts the Navy in close proximity to the North and South Korea fleets, who've shot at each other as recently as the summer of 2002. Add to this volatility merchantships of all flags running into and out of China and you have a seething caldron of acts of war just one angry captain away from happening.

Should we launch any form of military action in Korea, the Chinese would have to be on board. The US and UN clearly want to avoid a recurrence of 1950, where Chinese hordes joined the war against the UN as the North Koreans stood poised on the brink of elimination.

The Chinese likely want a buffer state. A unified Korea could threaten them if the North agrees to ally itself strategically with its brethren in the far more successful South, like we saw in Eastern Europe after the fallof the Soviet Union. This could push US military bases far too close to their border.

China subsidizes a large part of our $2 billion/day trade deficit, and produces a large percentage of our vital war materiel. Should China be displeased with the intervention they could pull funding or trade and cripple us economically. It remains to be seen if China would be willing to accept risks to the flow trade in order to protect the North Korea regime.

It's likely the Chinese see the Koreans as a economic rival. A unified Korea could begin exporting directly to Europe with a land route through Russia. Currently trade must go by ship.

Keeping North Korean politically stunted and economically backward is likely seen by the Chinese as a cheap and effective method for maintaining a divided Korean Peninsula.

Additional Sources and Commentary

The Russians and Chinese may be the real victors emerging out of the War on Terror, as foreign policy blunders and realpolitik oversights by the US open a door of unprecedented opportunity for our rivals.

More on the Shanghai Cooperative Organization from a somewhat alarmist perspective at frontpagemag.com here.

This on Iran's entry into the SCO here.

The Asia Times article by Bhadrakumar linked above quotes a Russian General:
"...The US's long term goals in Iran are obvious: to engineer the downfall of the current regime; to establish control over Iran's oil and gas; and to use its territory as the shortest route for the transportation of hydrocarbons under US control from the regions of Central Asia and the Caspian Sea bypassing Russia and China."

Even if the US public harbors the notion that the US is the worlds preeminent economic, military, and political power, the truth is that outside forces are competing constantly to challenge our position.

The balance of trade and worsening US fiscal situation supports the premise that the US cannot sustain its economic advantage indefinitely. At its current growth rate China will become the largest economy in or around the year 2025 [1] or 2041 [2] at the latest.

[1] "No Longer the 'Lone' Superpower: Coming to Terms with China" by Chalmers Johnson [Link]
"...Shahid Javed Burki, former vice president of the World Bank's China Department and a former finance minister of Pakistan, predicts that by 2025 China will probably have a GDP of $25 trillion in terms of purchasing power parity...followed by the United States at $20 trillion..."
[2] National Intelligence Council's 2020 Project, citing Goldman Sachs, Global Economics Paper No. 99 , October 2003.

Other Resources

See an excellent, prescient article on Japan and East Asia from the author of Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, Chalmers Johnson, here.

Pakistan's Role

I am discovering new information on the Pakistani link to the development of North Korean nukes

Paul Krugman has written on Bush's failure to castigate Pakistan for its failure to stop infamous nuke black market profiteer Dr. A.Q. Khan. In "Weak on Terror" for the NYT (3/16/04) Krugman writes:

...the administration is still covering up for Pakistan, whose government recently made the absurd claim that large-scale shipments of nuclear technology and material to rogue states — including North Korea, according to a new C.I.A. report — were the work of one man, who was promptly pardoned by President Pervez Musharraf. Mr. Bush has allowed this farce to go unquestioned.

I found the following information from Indian activist Praful Bidwai posted on antiwar.com dated but significant:

"Robert Einhorn, Bill Clinton's assistant secretary of state for non-proliferation, told The Washington Post that North Korea and Pakistan have been known to engage in sensitive trade, including Pakistans purchase of Nodong missiles from North Korea...[C]oncerns were raised whether there was a quid pro quo in the form of enrichment technology...

"The New York Times too quotes intelligence officials as saying: What you have here is a perfect meeting of interests the North had what the Pakistanis needed and the Pakistanis had a way for Kim-Jong Il to restart a nuclear programme we had stopped.

"A number of Indian intelligence sources too have confirmed the North Korea-Pakistan trade-off, partly based on the documents they found on board a North Korean ship which they intercepted in 1999 at an Indian port en route to Karachi from Pyongyang, carrying 170 tonnes of material suspected to be metal casings and missile components.

"...Joseph Cirincione, director of the non-proliferation project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, told India's Outlook magazine that it would be perfectly rational to assume that Pakistan provided the nuclear technology in exchange for missiles: It's a logical deal, and at the time it must have made perfect sense from the Pakistani point of view.

"According to Cirincione, the North Koreans established links directly with Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, head of the eponymous weapons laboratories, which developed the enrichment technology at Kahuta, based on pilfered designs. Cirincione said: Khan made 12 separate trips to Pyongyang in four years, underscoring his intimate and personal relationship with North Korea.

"Another Indian magazine has reported that Benazir Bhutto, then Prime Minister, too visited Pyongyang clandestinely in the mid-1990s to finalise agreements for missile purchase and nuclear technology transfer.

"The forced retirement of AQ Khan the Father of the Bomb, and a national hero and of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission chairman Ishfaq Khan in March 2001 sparked off speculation that the action was taken under US pressure for reasons connected with North Korea's suspected uranium enrichment programme.

"Islamabad has forcefully and repeatedly refuted all allegations of a nuclear-missile deal with North Korea...

"One does not have to be an alarmist or a non-proliferation fundamentalist to cast doubts on the assurances that General Pervez Musharraf offered to Colin Powell that Islamabad never supplied nuclear expertise to North Korea.

"When asked whether Musharraf was telling the truth, Powell said: I'm talking about now and I m talking about what might be happening in the future. I don't want to go back into the past because it would involve some sources and methods that I'd not discuss.

"Today, Musharraf seems to be using his very special leverage with the US in its battle against Al-Qaeda to seek America's indulgence for having made a high-risk nuclear-missile trade-off in the 1990s. There is a good chance he will get away {with it}..."

The article is here.

The Bidwai piece is supported by this article in the International Herald Tribune, which focuses on a Musharraf interview in August 2005 in which he reveals that A.Q. Khan "'...sent "centrifuges - parts and complete' to North Korea."

This article from CBS cast some light on Pakistan's role as well and discusses the North Koreans' missile capability relative to plutonium- or uranium-based nukes.

Bottom line is that Pakistan was in a position to provide nuclear weapons or technology to North Korea.

I've brought Pakistan up in preceding posts on the matter.Pakistan's committment to the War on Terror has been seriously questioned. Apparently a deal was signed between Pakistan and tribes sympathetic to the Taliban in September. Musharraf also pardoned A.Q. Khan, perhaps to placate pan-Islamic nationalists who threaten his rule. Stuck between domestic consituencies, Musharraf is hardly reliable.

As dictator of nuclear weaponed Pakistan, Musharraf is in a postion to stop proliferation is Musharraf. He may be the best the US can hope for, despite his absence of democratic credentials--coming to power in a coup as he did--and troublesome ouble-dealing--some would say appeasement--of pro-Taliban groups.

Understanding the Pakistani role is clearly crucial in managing the spread of nuclear weapons and the War on Terror, if stopping the spread of WMD is indeed its goal.


Monday, October 09, 2006

The Death of Counter-Proliferation (1.1)

News that North Korean detonated a nuclear device late Sunday night, U.S.-time.

This is a geopolitical failure of catastrophic proportions. The Bush Administration has failed to stop the development and now test of nuclear weapons. A last ditch solicitation to conduct bilateral talks put forth by North Korea had been rejected by the US.

The North Korea government claimed that a demonstrated nuclear weapons capability was essential for its own defense. Like the US in its War on Terror, North Korea sees the need to act preemptively in its defense, in this case developing nukes to keep the enemy (us) at bay. For more, see an article by Heather Wokusch here.

North Korea testing a nuclear weapon is a massive foreign policy failure for the Bush Administration. North Korea gaining the bomb denies the central tenets of the Global War on Terror, which specifically identified North Korea as one country in an axis of evil.

Bush has long claimed that if the world community can't stop proliferation, then WMD will inevitably work their way into the hands of terrorists. Much of the justification for unilateral action against Iraq has been based on preventing the spread of WMD to terrorists. Perhaps North Korean was never thought to be a threat on a par with that posed by Iran and al-Qaeda.

To be meaningful our foreign policy dictates must be enforcable and enforced. Links between North Korea and any nuclear weapons-seeking terrorists are less well known but quite possible. Transporting nukes to terorist suitors might be challenging; far harder to monitor are illicit transfers of the nuclear weapons technology now quite clearly under North Korean control.

The djinni is out of the bottle; the cat out of the bag. The mushroom cloud over one of our cities may have not materialized, but as of late Sunday night, one of America's enemies proved they could supply the nuke. We still don't know what delivery capacity the North Koreans have. They may have a cross-continental ballistic missile capability.

The Security Council will certainly take action. They must. Otherwise, it will be seen as completely incapable of enforcing the nuclear test ban treaty. Nuclear counter-proliferation has been one of the UN's most important functions.

Military options may not be precluded; it was a UN force that initially fought the North Koreans in 1950, then later the Chinese themselves. Launching an invasion may be the only possible way to rid North Korea of its bombs or regime.

By repeatedly demanding the UN obey it, the US has no credibility within the UN. The Administration's headstrong position in Iraq has undermined multilateral support for counter-proliferation and military intervention, justified or not.

The US needs to work with the world now to make sure North Korea is punished for testing a nuclear device. It's horrific that the present US Ambassador to the United Nations is unconfirmed, and his nomination has been dyng a slow death behind the scenes. The US needs to assign fully vetted, capable ambassadors to deal with the crisis now.

The North Korean regime is already well isolated. Sanctions may be limited, Still, North Korea had recently established an active export zones open to foreign investment, so the North Koreans were headed toward global economic integration.

Economics are important, but geopolitics trump them.

The US must now face a nuclear-armed North Korea. And the logic underlying preemptive war has been thoroughly trashed, judging by how ineffective the Administration has been in limiting the spread of WMD to the quintessential rogue state: North Korea.

North Korea is a country with which the US has no peace treaty even 53 years after a war costing over 50,000 American lives. Kim Jong-il is clearly a meglomaniac.

North Korea has been developing nuclear weapons under Clinton and Bush, but they only tested one--the ultimate sign of defiance--under Bush's watch.

Cheney's hard-headed doctrine, the Administration's substitute for the tools of non-confrontational counter-proliferation has failed us. Rogue nations with nuclear weapons pose the nasty prospect of doing far more collateral damage to our allies and the global economy in their counterattack than is worth expending in their ouster.

The failure to stop North Korea has now opened up America's allies and bases in East Asia to the risk of direct nuclear attack. Should the US respond militarily, such a counterstrike would be capable. Also, the longer we wait to act, the more likely the North Korean regime is to improve their delivery capability.

North Korean now has the de facto capacity to do as it chooses regardless of US policies. Now that it is nuclear armed, the US must contend with the possibility of nuclear counterattack.

With the military limits of our present day "volunteer" force overstretched by Iraq, the US now lacks the capacity to field an army to confront a rogue state. Such a force could take years to build up. Worse, the US military's supply chain has become dependent on imports, predominantly Chinese, which may not be able to supply needed war materiel (see the Indianapolis Star article .)

So unafraid are the North Koreans of facing retaliation for the test, that they feel completely unburdened by limits on nuclear testing. They did however have the courtesy (or is it respect) to give 20 minutes advance notice of their test to the Chinese, who passed the alert on second-hand to the US.

Failing to prevent a demonstration of North Korean nuclear strength, the US has greenlighted the spread of nuclear weapons. Brazil, Indonesia, who are rumored to have nuke programs, and countless other countries will now see their military future as nuclear.

A Departure from Rhetoric

The urgency to deal with the faulty premise that Iraq was developing WMD sapped the US of its ability to deal with real threats. The roots of this disaster come from the political choice to sacrifice policy effectiveness for scoring points with the public in choosing a harmless "knockover" in Iraq over a real threat in Korea.

Secretary of State Rice envisioned a mushroom cloud over an American city as the first sign that Iraq had nukes. Now North Korea flaunts its possession of WMD just a step of two short (miniaturizing the warheads is a likely one) of delivering a missile to an American city as predicted in Rice's doomsday scenario.

The domestically popular rhetoric of the War on Terror has led to real consequences in the international arena, ostensibly the Republicans' strong spot. Rather than stymie the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, their policies have motivated regimes to develop nuclear retaliatory capacity in order to deter aggression by the US.

Cheney fashioned our policy of deterrence around the premise that the US must intervene under even the flimsiest of excuses, to be 100% safe. In an interview, Ron Suskind, author of The 1% Doctrine, explains Cheney's thinking:

"Even if there's just a 1 percent chance of the unimaginable coming true, act as if it's a certainty. It's not about our analysis, as Cheney said. It's about our response. The doctrine, the 1 percent solution, divided what has largely been indivisible in the conduct of American foreign policy, analysis and action."

See the interview here.

What response now? What reaction could be forthcoming, now that the North Korean test has forced us to stop analyzing and act? The test showed just how inept the Administration has been in stopping the spread of real WMD, despite Bush's "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. The rhetoric so keyed up on defending America by attacking Iraq has now been quite clearly proven hollow.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf over WMD in Iraq led our focus away from the North Koreans, who built their arsenal unmolested. Clinton can't be blamed for this, his nuke-mollifying agreement with the North Koreans had been abandoned by Bush early in his reign.

Bush Administration policies are tough on their rhetoric but completely incapable of detering aggression or the spread of WMD and nuclear technology. Trapped in Cheney's committment to defend America, no matter what it takes, the US is lost and rudderless, blown around by the strong winds and countervailing tides of global realpolitik, harmless and roaring like a paper tiger.

Pariah by Example

By invading Iraq, the US has confused and divided the world community over the legality of military intervention. The failures there cast into doubt the merits of preemptive wars and demonstrated the need for long-term occupation.

Like the Boy Who Cried Wolf, the US has used up its "Iraq has WMD" argument. Now that rationale looks more like a lame excuse for open-ended occupation resulting from an "intelligence failure."

Bush recently announced the US would not be honoring its commitments under international treaties governing the testing of nuclear weapons, ushering in a series of tests for bunker busting bombs. North Korea can simply announce that it is doing what it sees fit, as a sovereign nation, under the premise that it must defend itself.

By placing its rights over those of the world, the US asserted independence at the cost of its rightful place of world leader. It's no wonder other regimes seek to imitate us, and want to become little Americas dominating their neighbors and regions through nuclear supremacy and naked aggression.

To the architects of Iraq, our military was invincible, only now is it clear that US cannot hope to resolve its conflicts through the use of military force. The ability of the US to respond militarily and convincingly has been drastically curtailed by its use of force in Iraq.

With its coalition partners abandoning it, the ongoing US military occupation appears to be increasingly a unilateral effort lacking broad international support. Strategically, this means the US can do little to rally broad international coalitions behind any intervention, justified or not. This may explain the inability to act decisively on Darfur.

The effectiveness of our foreign policy has been crippled because we can't intervene militarily; we simply lack the military and international support for it.

The US and world community are severely limited in our military options. A clear and present danger has been allowed to fester, and the world community's response to it has been abridged by the US' failure to lead a coherent, multilateral counter-proliferation campaign.

No further dialogue appears to be forthcoming; no multilateral solution or alternative the now-very-obvious lack of conventional capacity to challenge the North Koreans. The US has neither carrot nor stick.

Other Issues

In my last post, I brought up a PBS Frontline documentary on Pakistan which supported my suspicions about the regime. The hour-long report did a good job of describing Musharraf's predicament, stuck between placating rising fundamentalism and US demands, backed by the now-infamous threat by Richard Armitage to bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age.

The website on the "Rise of the Taliban" is here.

The grounds for my suspicion were quite frail as I tried to piece the geopolitical puzzle together. So as I dig deeper I find sources of evidence to fit my position, which hardly serves as "news". Many global security and South Asian analysts were undoubtedly wise to the frailty of Musharraf's rule and the duplicity of his stance against terror, showing the US one face and his tribes another.

The interplay--continuing today--between Pakistan's ISI and the Taliban bears further watching. As long as the War on Terror's rhetorical pronouncement that Pakistan is an ally dominates the ideological landscape, the feasibility of US military and foreign policy goals in Afghanistan will be quite limited. The threat from the Taliban will not go away, for the routes into Afghanistan are hard to police, and the bonds too strong between the Taliban and their Pakistani kinsmen.

So whatever the novelty of these intricacies to me, Pakistan has long been a sordid centerpiece in the waging of the War on Terror, and Bush's perception- and rhetoric-driven approach to dealing with Pakistan has made achieving victory militarily impossible.