Monday, 20 October 2014

Cluster munitions in Ukraine

 According to Human Rights Watch:
During a week-long investigation in eastern Ukraine, Human Rights Watch documented widespread use of cluster munitions in fighting between government forces and pro-Russian rebels in more than a dozen urban and rural locations. While it was not possible to conclusively determine responsibility for many of the attacks, the evidence points to Ukrainian government forces’ responsibility for several cluster munition attacks on Donetsk. 
Is using a weapon that the majority of Nato members have agreed to prohibit going to cross anyone's red line? I think not. 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The C.I.A can't win wars

That's the lesson learned according to a CIA internal study revealed today in the NYT. The CIA's researchers found that it was rare that CIA intervention alone - short of air power or the special forces participating - significantly altered the outcome of conflicts. Exceptions cited were CIA interventions in the Greek civil war and in support of the anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan. Apparently the briefing Obama received about the study, made him hesitant to support proposals to arm the Syrian opposition. 

A couple of points not made in the article that will surely occur to many policymakers:

  • The process is the goal. While defeating the Soviet army in Afghanistan would have been an ideal outcome, increasing the cost of Soviet occupation was a reward in itself. Even if the mujaheddin had been ultimately broken the policy would still have been considered a success. In short, it focuses Soviet attention in one theater and keeps them from acting elsewhere. A net gain. 
  • Bargaining chips. Policymakers may want want to exploit the opportunity to get involved in conflicts in a low cost/risk manner, such as arming insurgents groups or governments, to gain negotiating leverage over another state actor that also has an interest in the conflict. 
  • Alliance management. Again a low cost way to show solidarity with states that are far more concerned with the outcome of a conflict than is the United States. 
All three of these points are valid in regard to CIA intervention in support of the Syrian opposition.  What impact intervention has on the people living in the place where weapons and know-how are being made available is generally not a concern. Empirical fact. 

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Obama is not a peacenik

Memoirs of administration officials reveal something about the president. In the case of Barak Obama  what do we learn?
Bob Gates: “I asked him if he agreed it was important to go after violent extremists on their ten yardline and not ours.”
Barak Obama: "Yes. I'm no peacenik."
Translation: It is better that we take the risk of killing innocent people abroad than take the risk of having innocent people die at home. Nobel Peace Prize winner Barak Obama. 


Thursday, 2 October 2014

There should be no combat for Canada in Iraq or Syria

As the Harper government prepares to announce its decision about the extent of Canada's involvement in Iraq (and maybe Syria) we should review the basic arguments for Canadian involvement. The arguments can be divided into four broad categories: 1) friendship 2) alliance partnership 3) global citizenship and the 4) national security. 

Countries that are friends, like Canada and the United States, have achieved a degree of dense interaction that makes the well being of the one important to the other. Indeed, our sense of well being can at times be indivisible. Furthermore, friends must help friends, otherwise we risk damaging the relationship. 

Alliance Partnership
Canada is a Nato member and as other Nato members are taking part in operations currently underway it is Canada's responsibility to do its part. We can also say that there is a distinction between being a friend and an ally. Allies are countries that help us achieve our foreign policy objectives. They need not be friends as defined above. Few Americans would consider Saudi Arabia a friend of the United States. As a practical matter, friends are often taken for granted and neglected. The foreign policy elite of the U.S. or any major power is usually focused on achieving its near term objectives and concentrates its attention on those countries that can help it do so. Ignoring the Americans or not doing enough to win Washington's gratitude risks Canadian priorities being ignored. 

Global Citizenship
ISIS represents a threat to global order. Canada, as a leading constructive power (i.e. one that invests much of its efforts in diplomacy aimed at a rules based international system and multilateral cooperation on transnational problems) has a stake in preserving international order. Multilateral military missions in places like Iraq or Syria are now an established international practice and consistent with concepts - endorsed by the U.N. - like the responsibility to protect. 

National Security
ISIS is a terrorist organisation that has recruited Canadians.  These Canadians may upon their return to Canada pose a threat to Canadian national security. Canada could also become the site of a terrorist attack aimed at American interests. Protecting Canada's national security therefore requires degrading/destroying ISIS. On this point I would say that we should distinguish between national security and public safety.  I define national security as meaning Canada's territorial integrity and constitutional order; whereas public safety is the physical well being of Canadians.

While each of these arguments individually provide some basis for Canadian involvement in the U.S. led coalition, taken together the case is compelling. But is it sufficient to risk the lives of Canadians?  Risking the lives of Canadians to be good friends to the Americans or good Nato allies seems a lot like going along to get along. Can anyone justify a death of a Canadian serviceman or woman this way ? As I've stated , national security isn't really at stake. At most we can say that their is a modest threat to public safety yet we have no reason to believe that a military intervention is the way to preserve public safety here in Canada. 

Risking the lives of Canadians to achieve humanitarian goals is noble. In this sense a military mission is no different than deploying medical professionals to try and contain Ebola in Liberia. However I would suggest that an important criterion to consider is the chance of success. I don't mean the tactical military objective but the overall political objective that justifies intervention. Canada's intervention in Libya was a tactical success and it has provided the Libyan people the opportunity to fail on their own. Iraq I believe is likely to be the same. 

Canada posses no unique capability or competence that makes its participation in a combat mission vital to success. We should feel free to extend non-combat support but tell the Americans and the Brits: You broke it, you still own it. 

Monday, 22 September 2014

Turkey reveals its priorities

Turkey, which has been totally uninterested ostensibly unable to close its border with Syria to individuals traveling to join ISIS in Syria, has discovered that it can close its borders to refugees fleeing ISIS

Only a few days ago, ISIS released 49 Turkish nationals it had been holding hostage. Turkey has refused to allow the U.S. to operate against ISIS out of the base it maintains in Turkey. Fear of reprisals against the hostages was one of the reasons quoted in the press. If I was a cynical person I would say that the hostages' release is ISIS's way of saying thanking Mr. Erdogan. 

Turkey's position is not dissimilar to America's other regional partners:

  • The defeat of the Assad regime takes precedence over the defeat of ISIS, therefore no cooperation with the regime is possible.
  • The U.S. hasn't done enough to aid the opposition , so it will have to do bear the burden against ISIS;
  • Support for the U.S. is contingent on greater American support for the opposition. 

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Why ignore the Al-Nusra Front?

Priorities, priorities, the Obama Administration has decided that al-Qaeda can wait while it focuses its bombing sorties and drone fired missiles on ISIS. Is it logically consistent to explain a strategy to the nation by making reference to successes in Somalia and Yemen places that make for an impressive Pentagon-CIA PowerPoint presentation where the target has been groups that announce their association with al-Qaeda while ignoring the al-Nusra Front – al-Qaeda’s designee in Syria? Is it logical to spare from attack a group that pledges its loyalty to one of America’s chief adversaries over the last 13 years?

Yes – consider for a moment that America’s allies are Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, states that have allowed their citizens to fund both the al-Nusra Front and ISIS; and Turkey that has made itself a main thoroughfare for “extremist travelers” (™ property of Government of Canada) otherwise called foreign fighters.  Qatar in particular hosts a major American military base while using al-Nusra as its preferred proxy in its competition for influence with Saudi Arabia. The regional allies are only willing to give up the dog in the fight that found a way to slip the leash.

If anyone is going to defeat ISIS in Syria surely someone is peeking out from an undisclosed location toward the Islamic Front  , as a sometime ally of the al-Nusra Front and adversary of ISIS, and hoping it does its part. Given that America’s allies can agree with the U.S. on one point, Assad must go (and they are going to hold Obama to those words) ; the U.S. must rely on the rebels groups that have proven to be the most Islamist competent notwithstanding any plans to train new and improved fighters.

Obama has created a new reality by acting now, like Karl Rove said empires do. In this new reality, a designated terrorist organisation associated with al-Qaeda, can rest easy because the attention of America’s foreign policy elite is directed along with its bombs and missiles, at somebody else. Meanwhile any help al-Qaeda the al-Nusra Front can provide will be welcome. 

Sunday, 7 September 2014

St, Louis County and the exploitation of the poor

Radley Balko reports:
Today, Bel-Ridge has about 2,700 people, 83 percent of whom are black, and 42 percent of whom live below the poverty line. In 2013 the town’s municipal court handled 7,706 traffic citations and issued 1,723 arrest warrants. As the ArchCity Defenders report in their white paper, the town estimates that in 2014, “it will collect $450,000 in fine revenue–or, an average of about $450 per Bel-Ridge household — making municipal court fines the largest single source of revenue in the budget.” The firm also reports that the Bel-Ridge municipal judge will make $18,600 this year, its prosecuting attorney $25,000, and its court clerks $38,350 — each to work three four-hour evening court sessions per month. The town also has a nine-member board of trustees and a police department. Bel-Ridge is also the town that issued fines to residents who didn’t subscribe the one private trash collection service authorized to pick up garbage.