It may be hard to pity John Kerry, but in the last couple of days, I’ve felt for the guy. America has competitors and rivals, and enemies too. But the problems posed by so-called friends are more vexing. On Wednesday Kerry was in Rome, for a scheduled seven-hour meeting with Netanyahu. Seven hours, that’s right. Three weeks ago, Netanyahu got a lengthy meeting with Obama, while the US government was on verge of shutting down. Max Blumenthal quipped that that one of Obama’s main jobs is to be the “Bibi-sitter”—for his efforts to make sure that Netanyahu doesn’t try to start a war in the Mideast or call up his minions in Congress to thwart US diplomacy.
Then there are the Saudis, the other “pillar” of the U.S. mideast alliance system. Unlike the case of Israel, no one even pretends there are “shared values” in play. It’s a pretty pure protection racket: we provide protection to the Saudi monarchy, and they use their oil wealth to aid the U.S. in other objectives, most importantly keeping the price of oil stable. This arrangement made a fair amount of sense post-1945, when keeping Arabia in the Western camp and the Soviets away from Mideast oilfields seemed of paramount importance, as it was throughout the Cold War. But the inherent problems of a close relationship dealing with a medieval theocracy with piles of money are now becoming more obvious.
One problem is that they basically don’t like us, at all; another is they seemingly prefer their women to be covered in shapeless black sacks; a third, that U.S. troops cannot be stationed there, lest Saudis feel compelled to blow up U.S. buildings in retaliation. (Most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis.) The Saudis use their vast wealth to spread their brand of Islam throughout the Muslim world, a brand which happens to be more antimodern and anti-Western than any other kind. They are upset when Obama balked at intervening in Syria on behalf of the the Saudi-backed jihadi rebels, and of course ignore the fact that the Palestinians still have no state sixty-five years after the Zionists got one. My guess is that the Saudis care far more about the jihadi forces they support in Syria than the Palestinians, who are, by regional standards, a basically secular and forward-looking group. They have shown their anger by refusing to take the seat in the UN Security Council that they spent years lobbying for.
And of course Iran. Here is where the Saudis, the other little rich gulf states, and Bibi Netanyahu are on the same page. You can see why Iran frightens them. It is governed by Shi’ite Muslims, and there are restive Shia minorities in most of the Gulf states, pressuring and sometimes demonstrating for civil and political rights. And of course Iran has a genuine middle class and a scientific infrastructure, which is why both Israel (which behaves as if it has a right in perpetuity to a regional nuclear weapons monopoly) and the Saudis, who are perhaps embarrassed by their own relative backwardness, feel threatened. Read More…
Col. Douglas Macgregor (retired) is a decorated combat veteran, the author of four books, a Ph.D., and executive VP of Burke-Macgregor Group LLC, a defense and foreign-policy consulting firm in Reston, Virginia. Macgregor’s groundbreaking books on military transformation—Breaking the Phalanx and Transformation Under Fire—have profoundly influenced thinking about change inside America’s ground forces. His newest book, 5 Battles in 5 Wars: 5 Essays on Transformation and War, 1914-1991, will be published in 2014.
Recently I interviewed him about America’s military needs in the 21st century:
TAC: What are the real threats the United States faces today and into the near future?
DM: There are three kinds of threats. The first threat is economic. In 1958, President Eisenhower told the American people, “The purpose is clear. It is safety with solvency. The country is entitled to both.” Eisenhower was right then and he’s right now. (See Paul Taylor, Rakesh Kochhar, Richard Fry, Gabriel Velasco and Seth Motel, “Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs between Whites, Black and Hispanics.”) We need to send home low-skilled, uneducated people who are not Americans. At the same time, American citizens must be first in line to receive training, education, and jobs. The second relates to the first in that our borders are open and unprotected. Criminality in many forms marches hand in hand with illegal immigration across our borders and through our ports. The third involves alliance commitments that threaten to entangle the U.S. Armed Forces in conflicts that are of no interest to the American people.
TAC: How would you defend against those threats? Structure of military? Homeland security?
DM: Committing U.S. Army Forces to the Border Security Mission is the only sensible and cost-effective means of securing our borders. These Army forces need to be tightly integrated with U.S. Coast Guard, Air National Guard, and U.S. Navy elements that must secure our coastal waters. Meanwhile, conflicts beyond America’s borders are likely to resemble the Balkan Wars of the early 20th century, except that fights for regional power and influence will overlap with the interstate competition for energy, water, food, mineral resources and the wealth they create. These conflicts promise to be far more lethal and dangerous than any we’ve experienced since 1991. Fortunately, we should be able to avoid entanglement in most of them given our growing domestic energy independence and capacity for food production. Read More…
Kevin Bales, co-founder of Free the Slaves and well-known human trafficking expert, first estimated there to be 27 million slaves worldwide. This was an approximation offered in his 1999 book Disposable People. Since then, the topic of human trafficking has garnered international attention—yet for the past 14 years, the estimated number of slaves worldwide rested at Bales’ original approximation. But now, with a team of researchers at the Walk Free Foundation, Bales has introduced a new number: 29.8 million. The new “Global Slavery Index 2013” seeks to measure international slavery and human trafficking, and to provide informational tools for institutions fighting the problem.
Two potential weaknesses of such a report lie in its definition (how broad or specific it is, how easy to measure) and its methodology: how does one measure the global population of slaves worldwide, when slavery is an illegal and clandestine activity? The report’s authors explain their methodology, which focused primarily on secondary collection (via both governmental and non-governmental reports) and representative random sample surveys. Nick Grono, CEO of the Walk Free Foundation, told The Guardian, “Measuring a hidden crime is very challenging, but there are efforts to measure domestic abuse and drug trafficking. A lot of it boils down to taking the best data on reported issues and then looking at the scale of the unreported or ‘dark’ problems.”
The index’s definition of slavery and human trafficking has received some skepticism. Bridget Anderson, Deputy Director of the Centre on Migration, Policy, and Society at Oxford, told The Guardian this report gathers “unjust situations” around the world and labels them as “slavery.” “You have a definitional problem, everything depends on the definition and if you use tricky words like ‘forced’, you are already straying into difficult territory,” she said. Here is an excerpt from the report’s definition section:
In 2013, modern slavery takes many forms, and is known by many names. Whether it is called human trafficking, forced labour, slavery or slavery-like practices (a category that includes debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, sale or exploitation of children including in armed conflict) victims of modern slavery have their freedom denied, and are used and controlled and exploited by another person for profit, sex, or the thrill of domination … The chains of modern slavery are not always physical – sometimes escalating debts, intimidation, deception, isolation, fear or even a ‘marriage’ that is forced on a young woman or girl without her consent can be used to hold a person against their will without the need for locks or chains.
One can see Anderson’s point. Not only does this definition include a plethora of hidden, illegal criminality—it also includes criminality across a broad variety of platforms: the trafficking of persons across borders, private commercial labor, sex slavery, child soldier kidnappings, and forced marriages. Also, from reading Bales’ books and a variety of other books on the subject, I have learned “coercive labor” situations often do involve pay. But they involve pay in ridiculously minuscule amounts, offset by mountains of employer-determined debt. Thus, the “bondage” described is of a tricky and hidden nature.
The report’s definition is not necessarily wrong. It is good to have some broad (albeit sketchy) statistics on the issue. But Grono himself admitted “the data is not that strong; we want to be open about this. If a government says they don’t agree [with the data], we will say great, let’s work with a national statistics office to do a study across the country to try and analyse the scale of the problem.”
While child and forced marriage are awful human rights abuses, should they be included in the Global Slavery Index? Perhaps so—but consider, we now have a conglomeration of commercial, domestic, and sexual exploitation in the same dataset. How does one begin to parse a number so large? The index’s inclusion of basic law information for the top 10 worst countries in the index could be helpful—if one fights trafficking in Mauritania, Haiti, Pakistan or India. But this is a limited contribution.
This is not meant to be harsh—the report’s authors are working for a noble cause. But one hopes they can improve the index with time. Perhaps a next step would be to specify data according to definitional groupings. What if one was to apportion the numbers for each nation according to commercial, domestic, and sexual slavery (perhaps another category for child soldiers, as well)? It would require more work, of course, but this division would allow for more practical data offerings. 29.8 million is a horrid and shocking number. But it is also, unfortunately, a rather useless one at this point.
From the government shutdown to the Virginia gubernatorial election, the war on women is in full swing, according to many liberal commentators. Nationally, there is a “small group of mostly male politicians are seemingly obsessed with these issues, and can’t seem to stay out of women’s personal medical care,” who Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards identifies as responsible for the government shutdown. Meanwhile in Virginia, Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe has slammed Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli for his extremely pro-life position. American rhetoric about a war on women focuses almost exclusively on reproductive health issues. Internationally, however, this discussion focuses on more fundamental rights.
One prominent leader in the global fight for women’s rights is Malala Yousafzai, a sixteen year old Pakistani who the BBC has dubbed “world’s most high-profile educational campaigner,” and who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala began blogging, originally anonymously, in 2008 for BBC Urdu in The Diary of a Pakistani Schoolgirl. In 2011 she told a Pakistani talk show host that if she ever found herself confronting the Taliban, “I will tell the Taliban that what they are doing is wrong, that education is our basic right. Even if, God forbid, they kill me, I must first say this to them.” That confrontation occurred a year later, when her school bus was boarded by Taliban members demanding “which one of you is Malala?” Malala received a bullet to her head that led to months of surgeries, a medically induced coma, and an eventual relocation to Birmingham, England for the entire Yousafzai family. Thankfully, Malala awoke with her mental faculties intact.
As her recovery, aided by further surgeries, progressed, Malala was called upon to give a sixteenth birthday present to the world: an internationally broadcasted speech at the United Nations in New York on education rights.
In her speech, Malala launched an eloquent attack against those who deny women basic human rights:
Today I am focusing on women’s rights and girls’ education because they are suffering the most. There was a time when women activists asked men to stand up for their rights. But this time we will do it by ourselves. I am not telling men to step away from speaking for women’s rights, but I am focusing on women to be independent and fight for themselves. So dear sisters and brothers, now it’s time to speak up. So today, we call upon the world leaders to change their strategic policies in favor of peace and prosperity. We call upon the world leaders that all of these deals must protect women and children’s rights. A deal that goes against the rights of women is unacceptable…
We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back. We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave, to embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential.
Dear brothers and sisters, we want schools and education for every child’s bright future.
Two days ago, the AFP reported that Malala’s struggle is far from over. The Pakistani Taliban’s spokesman Shahidullah Shahid threatened that “We will target her again and attack whenever we have a chance.”
We should not let partisan rhetoric blind us to the opportunities and protections this country offers to women. Malala reminds us of the distance so many other women have yet to go before they can begin to fight about free versus merely cheap access to reproductive healthcare.
Things are moving so rapidly on the Iran diplomacy front that it’s difficult to keep track. But the last week, the UN speeches, Iranian President Rouhani’s generally well-received “charm offensive,” the anticipation of a lunchtime handshake, the hawks’ relief when it didn’t happen, and then the phone call heard around the world makes one think the glaciers of Mideast diplomacy could break up with surprising rapidity.
Structures seemingly solid and impervious to change can collapse quickly when the time is right: the Maginot Line, the Berlin Wall. Who believed in 1987 that Eastern Europe would be more or less free of Soviet dominance within three years, or that the Soviet Union itself would collapse? Not, to my memory, a single high-ranking diplomat, businessman, or university professor.
So imagine: the nuclear diplomacy track gets going, and Iran makes it clear that it will trade transparency and inspections to ensure non-weaponization. Obama does what he can strip away the sanctions, encouraged by Europe, which is eager to trade and invest in Iran. And suddenly Americans realize there is this large, sophisticated Muslim country, with a large middle class and a huge appetite for American culture and business. It is not a U.S.-style democracy, far from it—but no country in the Middle East is. At worst it is in third place. Compared to the state of political freedom in China in 1971, contemporary Iran is a New England town meeting.
Recall: in 1971, American elites fell in love with China. The “China Lobby”—that large complex of anti-communist Chinese and Americans with personal and professional ties to China who felt jilted by the Revolution and which had prevented any rapprochement until then—proved to be a proverbial “paper tiger” once President Nixon decided to reach beyond it. American elites were suddenly enthralled by ping pong and pandas. New York Times columnist James Reston had an appendectomy with no anesthetic beyond acupuncture, and it worked out wonderfully—and became the source of hundreds of respectful news stories about Chinese medicine. For years, China was the new flavor on the block. Growing ties with China were the backdrop to everything: America could be humiliated in Vietnam and the world hardly noticed.
This really is frightening.
Terrorist incidents tell us nothing new about human nature. We already knew that people are capable of horrendous violence, especially when they have come to regard some other subset of human beings as unworthy of full human status. It’s not surprising, then, to see the terrorists of Somalia’s loathsome al-Shabaab movement violating all laws of humanity by slaughtering innocent victims of all ages. People can become monsters, and they did in the Nairobi mall attack that began on September 21.
What really is alarming, though, is to see terrorists create a radical new tactic against which there is no obvious response or defense. There was nothing surprising, for instance, in the idea that terrorists might hijack airliners, but only in 2001 did we realize that hijackers might use them for suicide attacks, turning those aircraft into deadly missiles. Nairobi has just shown us another horrible innovation. It might be that we won’t realize how effective this could be against the U.S. until we face yet another day when we are counting the dead in their hundreds. We have to confront this issue immediately.
Think about it. How would one attack a shopping mall, whether in Nairobi or Minneapolis? Presumably a number of pickup trucks draw up in the parking lot, and 20 or so armed men and women get out, carrying their weapons and ammunition. Then they enter the mall and begin killing until they can do no more harm. They are strictly limited by the number of bullets and grenades they can carry. When police and military forces arrive, the terrorists might hold out for an hour or two before being eliminated.
That’s one way to do it, but it’s clearly not what happened in Nairobi, where firefights were still in progress several days after the initial assault. Even more amazing, terrorists were still putting up resistance against strong Kenyan forces, reputedly trained and assisted by British and Israeli special forces.
How on earth did the terrorists do it? Why, they rented a store. Read More…
Whether the deal to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles is enforceable and verifiable is an open question. But what is clear is that some cautionary lessons have already emerged from this crisis. Here are three of them.
First, be wary of the injunction “Don’t just stand there; do something.”
Since Syria erupted into civil war in mid-2011, commentators left and right have called for the United States to attack the Assad regime as well as to provide arms to its opponents.
But contrary to what many liberal hawks and neoconservatives claim, the violence in Syria is no worse than what Washington has been able to bear with comparative equanimity in Rwanda, Sudan, and Congo. On what moral grounds should one decide that one war is intolerable while another can be ignored?
In the field of foreign policy, the most famous advice offered to practitioners—the French statesman Talleyrand’s “Above all, not too much zeal”—showed a profound distaste for “busyness.” It’s both wise and routinely ignored advice. Remember how can-do, hands-on liberal hawks (Rusk, McNamara) screwed things up in Vietnam or how hyperactive neoconservatives (Wolfowitz, Feith) proved to be incompetent and ineffective in Iraq.
None of this is to imply that forceful action is never justified: it is in the right circumstances and when the right conditions are met. But the national interest did not require a major U.S. intervention in Syria, the political support for it did not exist and could not be mobilized, and the conflict itself has been morally ambiguous: a brutal dictatorship, backed by Shiite Iran and its Lebanon-based proxy, Hezbollah, versus a largely Islamist rebellion supported by Sunni powers as well as al-Qaeda-aligned extremist fighters.
Given that the political objective was perilously unclear, there has been much to be said for a policy of restraint and caution. As even President Obama warned as recently as last month: “Sometimes what we’ve seen is that folks will call for immediate action, jumping into stuff that does not turn out well, gets us mired in very difficult situations, can result in us being drawn into very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region.”
A second lesson: Don’t make threats or commitments lightly; make them only if you’re prepared and able to honor them. Read More…
President Obama defended American exceptionalism in a speech mostly dealing with America’s diplomatic efforts in the Middle East at the UN Tuesday: “Some may disagree,” he noted, “But I believe America is exceptional, in part because we have shown a willingness, to the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up, not only for our own narrow self-interests, but for the interests of all.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin recently published a New York Times op-ed in which he critiqued this conceit head on: “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.” Putin’s statement clearly struck a nerve: Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint answered Putin directly (“all humans are created equal—but not all nations are created equal”) while Senator John McCain responded in the wrong Pravda. Obama’s UN remarks represented a rather pointed reply to Putin’s comment. He warned of a “vacuum of leadership” that would result from American disengagement around the globe. He argued that “the world is better” for active U.S. leadership.
Is American “exceptionalism,” then, derived from its globalist foreign policy? Not according to Richard Gamble: In a 2012 article for this magazine, he argued that America has been driven by “old” and “new” American exceptionalisms. Gamble cites an 1899 speech by Yale sociologist William Graham Sumner, written at a time when America’s imperialist bent was beginning to take hold:
When Sumner came to the question of what set America apart from other nations, he debunked the most popular and superficial conception of exceptionalism and looked at history to ground America’s identity in something more substantial. Sumner first noted the irony that by claiming it had a unique civilizing mission to perform, America sounded just like every other major power at the end of the 19th century. “There is not a civilized nation which does not talk about its civilizing mission just as grandly as we do,” he remarked. The English, French, Germans, Russians, Ottoman Turks, and Spanish said the same.
It was not America’s “divine mission,” writes Gamble, that once set it apart. The old idea of exceptionalism was “more about what America doesn’t do than what it does, more about national self-restraint than national self-assertion.”
Indeed, one could not help comparing the defensive Putin backlash to George Washington’s famous 1796 farewell address:
Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it … The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.
America’s political connections and involvement now extend far beyond Europe’s friendships and enmities. Our engagement around the globe is now routine. Yet Washington advocated for restraint. He was devoted to the peace and permanency of the Union, and to preserving domestic peace at all costs. Only one comment in Washington’s speech hints at “exceptionalism”: he said the U.S. enjoys a peculiarly “detached and distant situation” from other nations, and this position “invites and enables us to pursue a different course.”
In other words, the only “exceptionalism” envisioned by Washington is anathema to that expressed by American politicians today. While Washington saw domestic concerns as our most important preoccupation, Obama defined strict national interests as “narrow” and selfish.
Yet in a nation swimming in debt and riddled with unemployment, perplexed by health care complications and political schisms, one cannot help thinking that these “narrow” concerns are actually quite broad.
In the fall of 1956, Nikita Khrushchev threatened to rain rockets down on London for the British invasion of Suez and sent his tanks into Budapest to drown the Hungarian Revolution in blood.
He blew up the Paris summit in 1960, banged his shoe at the UN, and warned Americans, “We will bury you!”
He insulted John F. Kennedy in Vienna, built the Berlin Wall, and began secretly to place missiles in Cuba capable of annihilating every city in the Southeast, including Washington.
Those were sobering times and serious enemies.
Yet in the Eisenhower-Kennedy years, living under a nuclear Sword of Damocles unlike any the world had ever known, we Americans were on balance a cool, calm and collected crowd.
How then explain the semi-hysteria and near panic in circles of this city over the possibility President Obama might meet with President Hassan Rouhani and hold negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program? Read More…
This summer produced a triumph of American patriotism.
A grassroots coalition arose to demand Congress veto any war on Syria. Congress got the message and was ready to vote no to war, when President Obama seized upon Vladimir Putin’s offer to work together to disarm Syria of chemical weapons.
The war America did not want — did not come.
Lindsey Graham is determined that this does not happen again.
The next war he and his collaborators are planning, the big one, the war on Iran, will not be blocked the same way.
How does Graham propose to do this?
He plans to introduce a use-of-force resolution, a peacetime declaration of war on Iran, to ensure Obama need not come back to Congress — and can attack Iran at will. Lindsay intends a preemptive surrender of Congress’ constitutional war-making power — to Obama.
He wants to give Obama a blank check for war on Iran, then stampede Obama into starting the war.
On Fox’s “Huckabee” Sunday, Lindsey laid out his scheme:
“I’m going to get a bipartisan coalition together. We’re going to put together a use-of-force resolution, allowing our country to use military force … to stop the Iranian nuclear program. … I’m going to need your help, Mike, and the help of Americans and friends of Israel.”
In July, Graham told a cheering conference of Christians United for Israel: “If nothing changes in Iran, come September, October, I will present a resolution that will authorize the use of military force to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.”
That Graham is braying that he intends to give Obama a blank check for war on Iran is not all bad news. For he thus concedes Obama does not now have the authority to attack Iran.
And by equating Iran’s “nuclear program” with a “nuclear bomb” program, Graham reveals that his bottom line is not Obama’s bottom line, but Benjamin Netanyahu’s.
Obama has said only that Iran must not be allowed to build a bomb. Bibi says Iran must not have a nuclear program.
Yet, make no mistake. The goal of Graham, the neocons, Israel and Saudi Arabia is not a negotiated solution permitting a peaceful nuclear program in Iran. The goal is a U.S. war to smash Iran.