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Iraq



All Reason.com articles with the "Iraq" tag.



Published: Tue, 26 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Tue, 26 Sep 2017 09:51:06 -0400

 



The Vietnam Syndrome: How We Lost It and Why We Need It Back

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 00:15:00 -0400

In Kabul, Afghanistan, American Embassy personnel who want to meet with their counterparts at the nearby U.S. military base have to travel a mere 100 yards. But they don't make a practice of walking or driving. They go by military helicopter, reports The New York Times. The space between is too dangerous to cross on the ground. It's the sort of bizarre fact that might have emerged in Ken Burns' new PBS series on the Vietnam War, illustrating our inability to turn South Vietnam into a safe, stable place. But it's not the past; it's the present. The Vietnam War was the greatest U.S. military catastrophe of the 20th century. A conflict begun under false pretenses, based on ignorance and hubris, it killed 58,000 Americans and as many as 3 million Vietnamese. It ended in utter failure. Never in our history have so many lives been wasted on such monumental futility. It was a national trauma worse than any since the Great Depression, and it left deep gashes in the American psyche. It instilled an aversion to wars of choice that became known as the Vietnam syndrome. The allergy might have lasted for generations. It didn't. In 2001, just 26 years after the fall of Saigon, the United States invaded Afghanistan. American troops have been fighting there twice as long as we fought in Vietnam. Once again we find ourselves mired in an incomprehensible land, amid people who distrust us. Once again we are aligned with a corrupt regime that couldn't survive without our help as we incur casualties in the pursuit of goals we never reach. In Burns' documentary, President Lyndon B. Johnson is heard in 1965 confiding, "A man can fight if he can see daylight down the road somewhere, but there ain't no daylight in Vietnam." Afghanistan has also been an endless journey down a pitch-black mine shaft. The American military drew some obvious conclusions from Vietnam. Gen. Colin Powell, who served in combat there, had them in mind when he formulated what became known as the Powell Doctrine. It advised going to war only if we can identify a vital interest, have clear, achievable purposes, are prepared to use decisive force, and know our exit strategy. But Powell's wisdom eventually was forgotten. How could we be repeating the mistakes of Vietnam already? We didn't wake up one day with severe amnesia. It was not a one-step process. It occurred through a succession of military interventions that convinced us we were clever enough to avoid the pitfalls that had brought us to such ruin in Southeast Asia. Ronald Reagan lamented the Vietnam syndrome but shrewdly declined to send American forces to fight leftists in Central America. He did, however, undertake one brief, low-risk invasion -- of the Caribbean island of Grenada, against a Castro-backed Marxist regime. Our forces removed the government, and we soon departed. In 1989, George H.W. Bush tried a more ambitious mission, invading Panama to eject a dictator. Then came Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, which provoked Bush to send a huge air and ground force to expel Saddam Hussein's army—a fight that proved far easier than expected. Bill Clinton had his own victory, an 11-week bombing campaign that forced Serbia to leave the breakaway province of Kosovo. He managed it without a single American combat fatality. By 2001, when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Americans had gotten our swagger back. We had proved we could bring about regime changes in hostile countries while incurring few casualties and avoiding long-term entanglement. We thought we had cracked the code of successful military interventions. The general attitude in Washington was: "We've mastered this." We proceeded to plunge into Afghanistan, where we realized a stunning initial victory, and then into Iraq, where we rapidly routed the enemy and toppled his dictatorship. The lessons of Vietnam, many assumed, had been refuted once and for all. But they were just waiting to be retaught. In Afghanistan and Iraq, American troops once again discovered the confusion and terror of fighting an enemy who blends into the populace[...]



No War This Week... with North Korea

Fri, 18 Aug 2017 16:05:00 -0400

Last week's boogeyman, North Korea, didn't get much attention this week, as neo-Nazi marchers and Confederate statues captured the news cycle. But Washington and Pyongyang are taking slow but hopefully steady steps toward a diplomatic resolution. President Trump's "fire and fury" comment came and went, making waves in domestic and foreign media but ultimately not changing much about the reality on the ground. As the North Korean regime gradually increases its nuclear capabilities, it is still far from an existential threat. Trump's off-the-cuff threat was, at its most basic level, a reiteration of the mutually assured destruction policy, albeit without the mutuality. Kim Jong-un responded to Trump last week by announcing his regime was contemplating a strike on Guam. The governor of Guam, Eddie Calvo, dismissed the threat, and residents of the territory seemed to be staying calm. This week North Korea backed down, saying it was no longer considering an attack on Guam but would strike if the "Yankees persist." Trump praised Kim for chainging course, tweeting that it was a "very wise and well-informed decision." Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated this week that the door to negotiations remains open but that it is up to Kim to act. An achievable short-term goal would be the resumption of the six-party talks between North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and the U.S, which began in 2003 but ceased in 2009 after North Korea launched a launched a satellite and was slapped by increased sanctions. Yesterday, Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis welcomed their counterparts from Japan to Washington for a security summit, where Mattis re-iterated the American, and Japanese, promise of an "effective and overwhelming response" to any hostilities from North Korea. Tillerson, Mattis, and their Japanese counterparts also said they would urge China to take "specific measures to make North Korea change its behavior." Tillerson warned of a bleak isolation if North Korea did not reengage the international community. In short, the U.S. and North Korea remain as far from war, or as close to war, as at any time in the last decade. Diplomatic efforts could still bear fruit. The ISIS and Afghan wars, on the other hand, continue apace. Two U.S. soldiers were killed during combat operations this week in Iraq, where American troops withdrew in 2011 before returning a few years later to battle the Islamic State. Iraq, meanwhile, admitted that its soldiers "abused" civilians and tortured ISIS militants during the campaign to re-take Mosul from ISIS. And Trump casually commented last friday that he might start a war with Venezuela too. That has only emboldened the regime of Nicolas Maduro, providing him with a useful scapegoat to invoke when demonizing the democratic opposition.[...]



Regime Change in Iran Is Neither Necessary Nor Prudent

Fri, 30 Jun 2017 13:30:00 -0400

There's mischief afoot in the White House, and it's the familiar mischief of regime change. Some in President Trump's advisory circle are reportedly pushing for an official embrace of regime change as the United States' policy toward Iran. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) is at the forefront of this ill-advised endeavor. "I don't see how anyone can say America can be safe," he told Politico, "as long as you have in power a theocratic despotism" in Iran. Well, senator, let me explain. First, let's agree the government of Iran is an unsavory regime. Tehran has a well-documented record of human rights abuses, so Cotton's "theocratic despotism" label is not unfair. Iran also has a reputation for sponsoring terrorism and backing Syria's genocidal government. To be sure, the recent re-election of President Hassan Rouhani, who campaigned on a message of moderation and liberalization, is a step in the right direction. Rouhani's hardline opponent was considered the favorite of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his voters hailed the win as a victory for peace and positive international diplomacy. More importantly, younger Iranians are increasingly secular and pro-Western. They are challenging their government's strict social controls and have a positive view of America. As these generations mature and Khamenei's cohort dies off, political evolution (if not revolution) is likely. Still, it would be naïve to deny that the potentially free and open Iran of the future is not yet here. But it would be even more naïve—and dangerous, too—to make the leap from this basis to Cotton's support of U.S.-orchestrated regime change. The weight of pragmatic considerations here is enormous. Consider what happened in Iraq, the United States' biggest post-9/11 regime change project. What was sold as a necessary and relatively easy war has dragged on these 14 years. Iraq today is less stable than it was before American military intervention; it has become a breeding ground of terrorism, a festering sore oozing the poison of radicalism across the greater Mideast. We have little to show for more than a decade of nation-building efforts spread across three presidencies. With trillions spent and tens of thousands of American and Iraqi lives lost, no one can credibly say regime change in Iraq was a decision worth repeating. Apply the same approach to Iran, and the results will be more disastrous. Iran has more than double Iraq's population, and Iranians are better educated and more urbanized. Iran is more than triple Iraq's geographic size, and its economy and technological development are both superior to its neighbor to the east. Add to that the United States' history of meddling in Iran's internal affairs—recent history that is not forgotten and will keep Iranian moderates and reformers from being sympathetic to American goals— and the probability of a successful regime change imposed by Washington is exactly nil. The good news is there is no credible case such an effort is needed. Contra the threat inflation from Iran hawks, the country is fundamentally a regional power with bounded influence. It is a majority-Shiite state surrounded by Sunni enemies, most notably the well-armed and U.S.-supported Saudi Arabia. It is halfway across the globe from our shores, isolated from us by the world's largest natural moats, and would be laughably outmatched by the U.S. in conventional warfare. Moreover, American intelligence agencies have consistently and unanimously said since 2007 that Tehran is not engaged in a nuclear weapons program. And though hardly an American ally in the war on terror, Iran does join Washington in actively opposing the Islamic State, the chief terrorism threat we face today. This assessment of Iran's limited capabilities—not to mention the gross expense, risk, and instability regime change would unquestionably produce—is why foreign policy realists argue America can be safe without launching another long, bloody war of choice. Again, none of this is to say the [...]



The Foolishness of Pursuing Regime Change in Iran

Thu, 29 Jun 2017 00:15:00 -0400

Hearing American policymakers talk about regime change is like watching Wile E. Coyote open a package of dynamite he ordered. No matter how clever his scheme, you know that sooner or later, he'll get blown up. He never seems to figure out that TNT is something to avoid. Some people in Washington are sick of trying to get the government of Iran to change its ways—which include financing terrorism, punishing dissent, and supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad. They have embraced another idea: Help topple the rulers in Tehran in hopes of getting someone more to our liking. This is a reminder of the maxim that for many people, the only use of history is to disregard it. The United States has a long history of fomenting regime change in other countries—including Iran, in a CIA-sponsored coup in 1953—and the results have generally been calamitous. Yet its appeal persists. While he was in Congress, CIA Director Mike Pompeo endorsed the removal of the existing government. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called for a "peaceful transition" to a new regime in Iran. Among those captivated by the idea is Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas). He told Politico, "I don't see how anyone can say America can be safe as long as you have in power a theocratic despotism." How could America be safe as long as Russia was ruled by a blood-drenched Communist regime that enslaved half of Europe and had the capacity to destroy us in a nuclear holocaust? Through a strong military, firm alliances, and a missile arsenal that ensured our capacity to destroy it in return. The same approach that worked against a hostile superpower could work against a hostile non-superpower. But there have always been Americans who yearn for perfect safety. It's a snare. A certain amount of danger is unavoidable in a multinational world. And the dangers of trying to achieve total security turn out to be the worst dangers of all. It was not Iran that spawned the scariest enemy now on the horizon—the Islamic State group. It was the U.S. occupation of Iraq after we invaded in 2003 to, yes, topple the government. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were among those who thought America could never be safe as long as Saddam Hussein was in power. As it happened, America was safer with him than it has been without him. The invasion bogged us down in a bewildering civil war that left 36,000 Americans dead or wounded, destabilized the region, and expanded the influence of ... Iran. The theocratic despotism in Tehran is stronger today than it was in 2003. "Iran not only lost an enemy when Saddam was hanged, it gained an ally in the new Iraq," wrote Thomas Ricks, author of two books about the war. It also came out ahead when we invaded Afghanistan to bring down the Taliban government, another enemy of Tehran. Our reward was the opportunity to fight a war that has lasted 16 years and shows no sign of nearing the end. Regime change in Libya didn't go so well, either. Because it was hard to imagine that anything could be worse than the vicious rule of Moammar Gadhafi, President Barack Obama saw no downside in using air power to bring him down. But success was fleeting. Soon, Libya was embroiled in anarchy and overrun by the Islamic State, with repercussions far beyond its shores. "The instability in Libya and North Africa may be the most significant near-term threat to U.S. and allies' interests on the continent," Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of the U.S. Africa Command, said in March. A half-million of the refugees flooding Europe came from Libya. So did Salman Abedi, who killed 22 people in a suicide bombing in Manchester, England, last month. Faced with a perennially hostile government, our best bet is to use pressure and diplomacy to moderate its behavior—as Obama did with the Iranian nuclear deal. It's not ideal, but it's the best of our bad options. Relying on any means short of war to overthrow the government has little chance of working. Military force might be more eff[...]



President Trump Escalates Wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Maybe Afghanistan Too

Tue, 28 Mar 2017 15:30:00 -0400

U.S. military officials are investigating an airstrike in Mosul, Iraq's second largest city which has been mostly occupied by ISIS since June 2014. Iraqis have said up to 200 civilians could've been killed in the strike, and an initial review by the U.S. military found that "scores" of civilians were killed after a building hit by U.S. airstrikes collapsed a few days later, as The New York Times reports. U.S. investigators are now trying to find out whether the airstrike caused the building to collapse or whether ISIS may have detonated an explosive there instead. The New York Times also reports that according to at least one Iraqi officer there had been "a noticeable relaxing of the coalition's rules of engagement" since President Trump took office. "Before, Iraqi officers were highly critical of the Obama administration's rules, saying that many requests for airstrikes were denied because of the risk that civilians would be hurt," The Times continued. "Now, the officer said, it has become much easier to call in airstrikes." The Trump administration has rejected such suggestions. While Trump has asked commanders in January to look at relaxing restrictions on airstrikes, military officials say that has not happened yet. "We go out of our way to always do everything humanly possible to reduce the loss of life or injury among innocent people," Defense Secretary James Mattis said at a Pentagon press conference, according to The Washington Post. "The same cannot be said for our adversaries and that is up to you to sort out." The Post reports that according to Airwars, a monitoring group based in the United Kingdom, the frequency of alleged civilian deaths in U.S. strikes in Iraq and Syria has surpassed civilian deaths there linked to Russian strikes. The Mosul strike comes as the U.S. is increasing troop levels in Iraq, and Syria, as part of the campaign against ISIS. The Military Times reports that an unknown number of U.S. combat troops have been ordered into northern Iraq, likely to participate in the ongoing effort to secure Mosul from ISIS. The U.S. is also sending more troops into Syria, with at least 500 being sent to take part in the attack on Raqqa, ISIS' de facto capital, something Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Ct.) wrote happened without any official notification. "President Trump has been busy dramatically expanding the American troop presence inside Syria," Murphy wrote in an op-ed for the Hartford Courant. "And virtually no one in Washington has noticed. Americans have a right to know what Trump is planning and whether this will lead to an Iraq-style occupation of Syria for years to come." The Trump administration has already signaled it will keep U.S. troops in Iraq after the campaign against ISIS is over. "The military power of the coalition will remain where this fraudulent caliphate has existed in order to set the conditions for a full recovery from the tyranny of ISIS," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said even as there is no end in sight for the war against ISIS. ISIS, in any case, is a successor organization to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which gained a foothold in that country only because of the 2003 U.S. invasion. The overall Al-Qaeda network traces its roots back to terrorist organizations around back in the 1990s. The September 11th attacks, which neither Al-Qaeda nor any other Islamist terrorist group has been able to come anywhere close to since, gave the group new life by dragging the U.S. and its allies into protracted conflicts around the Muslim world that have only served to increase the number of safe havens for such terrorist groups. In Afghanistan, which was one of the only safe havens for Islamist terror groups before 9/11 but is now one of many, Gen. John Nicholson, is continuing to push for additional troops in Afghanistan, telling The Sunday Times that the U.S. and Europe need to send 5,000 more troops to Afghanistan. "Failure here would embolden terrorists globally," Nicholson said, ignoring tha[...]



Trump Ramps Up American Military Action Abroad

Fri, 10 Mar 2017 15:55:00 -0500

Despite candidate Donald Trump's welcome sometimes-critical look at long-standing entangling U.S. alliances and arrangements, there was little doubt given his rhetoric on the war on terror that he would ramp up military involvement. He redeclared the war on terror in his inaugural—putting a new face and new rhetoric to a decades-long fight. Fifty days into the Trump administration, the new contours of the war on terror are starting to take shape. Foreign Policy reports of a renewed bombing campaign against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen following a late January raid the Trump administration insisted was a holdover from the Obama administration. According to Foreign Policy, the Obama administration "handed over plans for a stepped-up campaign to the incoming Trump team in January" and that there'd been "an immediate change in the tempo of operations." The U.S. has now reportedly dropped more bombs on Yemen than in any previous year. Of the 26,000+ bombs the U.S. was estimated to have dropped in 2016, 34 were attributed to Yemen. According to Foreign Policy, the Trump administration has seen military decisions untethered from much of the policy and bureaucratic deliberations that reportedly slowed down action during the Obama administration. Yemen and the U.S. campaign against AQAP was once lauded by President Obama as an example of a new kind of counterterrorism effort, one with a more limited footprint—the the country collapsed into a civil war after rebels alleged to be backed by Iran ousted the U.S.-backed government out of the capital. Saudi Arabia has since led a military coalition to return the government of Abdrabbuh Hadi back to power. Following the bombing of a hospital, the U.S. suspended some arms sales to Saudi Arabia late last year, but those have been resumed under the Trump administration. Al-Qaeda has benefited from the civil war, gaining territory with the help of a Saudi bombing campaign that, as Foreign Policy explains, is exclusively targeting the Houthi rebels. AQAP can fill the void as, for example, when they took over the port city of Mukalla and began to collect millions of dollars a month in taxes and fees. The Trump administration is also considering an increase in troop levels in the 15-and-a-half year war in Afghanistan, where the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has recently established a presence. Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of the U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in Egypt, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia, told the Senate Armed Forces Committee a "few thousand" more troops above the 8,500 still deployed in Afghanistan were needed to break a "stalemate" with the Taliban, the Islamist group the 2001 U.S. invasion ousted from power for harboring Al-Qaeda after the September 11 terrorist attacks. At that time, Afghanistan was probably the only country left where Al-Qaeda could set up a base—16 years of U.S. interventions have opened up space in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere. ISIS, the threat most of the military operations under Central Command target, is a competing militant group to the Taliban in Afghanistan, with any potential alliance possible largel because of a U.S. presence. Votel also suggested more ground troops were required in Syria—U.S. troops started to arrive in late 2015 to battle ISIS. American troops were also redeployed to Iraq for that purpose. Yesterday, The New York Times reported that the U.S. was deploying an additional 400 troops into Syria, almost as many as are currently there, ahead of the campaign to take Raqqa, ISIS' self-proclaimed capital. The U.S. is deploying 2,500 additional troops to a staging base in Kuwait in support of the campaign against ISIS, Military Times reported, although military leaders would not speak to the paper about the plans for the troops. "There are a number of options under consideration as the coalition looks for ways to accelerate th[...]



Trump's Travel Ban Forces Elderly Green Card-Holder to Stay in Iraq. She Died the Next Day (Updated: Family Imam Says Story is a Lie, She Actually Died Before the Ban)

Wed, 01 Feb 2017 10:32:00 -0500

(image) Mike Hager—an Iraqi-born U.S. citizen who fled his birth country during the first Gulf War, lived in a refugee camp for four years, and finally settled with his family in the U.S. in 1995—says his mother died in Iraq over the weekend after being denied entry back to the States, despite possessing a green card.

(UPDATE: Fox2 Detroit reports Hager's imam, Husham Al-Hussainy, says Hager's mother died five days before President Trump's executive order banning travel from Iraq and six other countries was implemented. Hager has not provided additional comment at this time.)

Hager told Fox2 Detroit that he, his 75-year-old mother, Naimma, and several other green card-holding relatives had been visiting family in Iraq, but were prevented from boarding a U.S.-bound plane at the airport, as a direct result of President Trump's executive order banning all visitors from seven countries—including Iraq. Trump's ban is set to last for 90 days, ostensibly to allow the U.S. government to ferret out "individuals with terrorist ties and stopping them from entering the United States."

Among his family only Hager, a U.S. citizen, was allowed to travel.

"I was just shocked," Hager said to Fox2, "I had to put my mom back on the wheelchair and take her back and call the ambulance and she was very very upset. She knew right there if we send her back to the hospital she's going to pass away - she's not going to make it."

By all appearances, Hager is the complete opposite of the secret jihadist embedded with refugees that exists in Trump's fantasies. Hager fled a war zone, became a U.S. citizen and business owner, and volunteered to work with the U.S. military during the Iraq War as a contractor and interpreter—even surviving getting shot in the back. He and his family appear to be a model of refugees, striving for and attaining the American Dream.

Hager believes his mother would have survived had she made it back to the States and received better medical care than was available to her in Iraq. In his grief, Hager is now is left to worry about if and when his nieces and nephews—also green card holders—will be permitted back into the U.S.

"This is our home. We've been here for too long, we've been here since we were kids," Hager told Fox2.

My Reason colleague Eric Boehm profiled an Iranian-American family—specifically an Iranian-born green card holder and his 66-year-old mother—who are left wondering if they'll ever be able to visit each other again thanks to the confused language and blunt implementation of Trump's executive order. Boehm writes:

Trump's immigration policy deems a 66-year-old grandmother to be such a threat to the safety of the United States that she doesn't even have the chance to look immigration officials in the eye and assure them that she's not a terrorist. It's a policy that will keep her from being able to visit her son and daughter-in-law, and may even keep her from ever looking at her grandchild.




For a Study in Failed Foreign Policy, Look at the Seven Countries in Trump's Refugee Ban

Mon, 30 Jan 2017 12:47:00 -0500

President Trump's executive order temporarily suspending refugee admissions worldwide and indefinitely suspending refugees from Syria also imposed a temporary ban on any immigrant or nonimmigrant entry from seven "countries of concern," all of which are predominantly Muslim. Combined with a directive to give preference to refugees who are religious minorities, many took to calling the order a Muslim ban. Some news outlets noted the fact that the seven countries primarily affected by the order—Libya, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen—did not have business ties with the Trump Organization, with the New York Daily News calling it conspicuous and pointing out no Americans were killed by nationals of those countries while thousands were killed by nationals of Saudi Arabia, which is not one of the countries of concern but where the Trump Organization does do business. The Daily News said it raised "alarming questions" about how the decision was made. The list, however, is not of Trump's making. The dissonance between the countries of concerns and the countries from where major terrorists and terrorism ideologies originate is embedded in US foreign policy. The list comes from a 2015 immigration law that designated those countries as "countries of concern" which required additional visa scrutiny, and exempted from visa waivers dual nationals from those countries who also held passports from countries the U.S. did not require a visa. Of those seven countries, all but Iran have been the target of some kind of military action in the last twenty years. The Obama administration committed the U.S. military to intervention in Libya's civil war in 2011, helping to depose Col. Moammar Qaddafi and plunging the country into chaos. Today, a number of terrorist groups, including ISIS, operate in Libya when they did not exist in the country before 2011. Between 2011 and 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, the U.S. accepted just seven refugees from Libya. There's no indication that changed in 2016. U.S. troops returned to Libya last year to join the campaign against ISIS. Trump becomes the fifth consecutive U.S. president to preside over military operations in Iraq. While Ronald Reagan helped arm Iraq during its decade-long war with Iran, his successor George H.W. Bush led an international coalition against Iraq after it invaded Kuwait. Bill Clinton spent his administration bombing Iraq on-and-off, as well as maintaining sanctions estimated to have killed more than half a million children by 1995. In 1998, Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act, which made it official U.S. policy to support regime change in Iraq. After 9/11, George W. Bush set his administration's sights on Iraq, eventually invading the country in 2003 over weapons of mass destruction that were not found. Weak connections to 9/11 promoted in the run up to the war totally fell apart after. In 2008, the Bush administration negotiated a status of forces agreement to end the Iraq war. After trying and failing to renegotiate that agreement, Barack Obama withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011. He took credit for the move during his 2012 re-election campaign, but when ISIS emerged as a major force in Iraq, he backtracked, insisting it was not his decision. Eventually, U.S. troops returned to Iraq under Obama, in a campaign against ISIS that never received specific congressional authorization. They remain there today, although U.S. operations in Iraq will be complicated by a travel ban the Iraqi government imposed on U.S. citizens in retaliation for Trump's order. Both exempt diplomatic and government travel. Trump himself pointed to a 2011 review of refugee admissions from Iraq as precedent for his actions, although the 2011 move did not keep legal permanent residents from entering or leaving the United States. Nevertheless, critics in Congress challenged the Obama[...]



Trump's 'Muslim Ban' Hurts the Fight Against ISIS, Say U.S. Diplomats in Iraq

Mon, 30 Jan 2017 10:15:00 -0500

(image) President Trump's sweeping ban on travelers from seven majority Muslim countries (including Iraq) from entering the United States was intended to protect the homeland from a vanishingly small threat of terrorism. But U.S. diplomats stationed on the front lines in the battle against arguably the world's most notoriously violent and sadistic group of Islamist extremists—ISIS—say the president's plan is both morally and strategically misguided.

According to a memo sent by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to the State Department, the travel ban risks the U.S. losing critical support from the Iraqi government, military, and the militias which the U.S. continues to support as they collectively try to retake territory occupied by ISIS for the past three years. The Wall Street Journal reports the memo reveals the diplomats in Baghdad were "blindsided" by Trump's executive order and are worried that the fallout could irreparably damage relations between the two countries, which are nominally "close allies."

The memo cited examples of unforeseen consequences of Trump's order, including an Iraqi army general who has worked closely with U.S. forces now being unable to visit his family in the U.S., a scheduled meeting in the U.S. between Iraqi officials and General Electric over a multi-billion-dollar energy investment now may not take place, and perhaps most crucially, the fate of approximately 60,000 Iraqis who risked their lives to aid the U.S. in Iraq now hangs in the balance. These Iraqis had applied for Special Immigrant Visas and if they were to be abandoned by the U.S., securing the cooperation of the locals in any U.S. military theater could be imperiled, but especially in Iraq, which has been war-torn since the U.S.-led war to depose Saddam Hussein began in 2003.

Iraqi officials have already called for reciprocity in the form of banning U.S. citizens from entering Iraq, and a spokesman for The Popular Mobilization Forces, a coalition of Iranian-backed Shiite militias fighting the Sunni extremists of ISIS said Trump's action insulted "the dignity of Iraqis who have suffered thousands of martyrs fighting terrorism on the behalf of the world," according to the Journal.

President Trump campaigned on being "the toughest guy" when it came to projecting U.S. military strength around the world, but his clumsy and cruel edict is a threat to U.S. military interests at a crucial time in Iraq, where ISIS loses more territory by the day, but where "winning the peace" has always been the unattainable victory for almost a decade-and-a-half.




6 Foreign Hotspots the Trump Administration Will Have to Deal With in 2017

Thu, 29 Dec 2016 14:00:00 -0500

2016 is mercifully coming to an end this weekend, and the Obama presidency will end less than three weeks later. Despite Donald Trump's insistence that he'll do things differently, January 20, 2017 will be no more a clean break from the past than January 20, 2009, was, especially when it comes to the exercise of U.S. foreign policy abroad. Both Barack Obama and Trump made a change in foreign policy part of their successful first presidential campaigns—for both, that promise of change was nebulous and uncertain. It allowed people with all different kinds of ideas about U.S. foreign policy to believe his vision would comport with their own. President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, just 10 months into office. He leaves office with a war in Afghanistan that's gone on longer than the Civil War, World War I, and World War II combined, a war in Iraq (and Syria) that's not quite the same as the one he inherited (the names and places have changed), and intervention-induced chaos in places like Libya and Yemen. Trump, meanwhile, sent all sorts of mixed signals about how his administration might conduct, or frame, its foreign policy during the campaign—he was no non-interventionist but also challenged the Republican foreign policy establishment during the primaries. His freewheeling style so far has earned some dividends, while his cabinet picks, like Rex Tillerson at secretary of state and Gen. James Mattis at defense, will at their confirmations have to frame whatever the Trump administration's actual foreign policy, or foreign policy narrative, might be. Even a foreign policy left adrift is destructive, and like the Obama administration before it, the Trump administration, too, will inherit a number of conflict zones and hot spots in which the United States is engaged. Afghanistan In 2009, President Obama ordered a troop surge in Afghanistan, a war that at that point had entered its ninth year. "When the history of the Obama presidency is written," The New York Times reported on December 5, 2009, about Obama's decision to accelerate the troop surge and subsequent withdrawal as visualized in a bell curve chart, "that day with the chart may prove to be a turning point, the moment a young commander in chief set in motion a high-stakes gamble to turn around a losing war." Seven years later, the Afghanistan war continues. Most recently, the putative withdrawal was pushed into 2017, with at least 6,000 U.S. troops staying through next year. In 2009, the point of the surge was to create the space for Afghan security forces to operate on their own. A concomitant "civilian surge" from the State Department was supposed to strengthen Afghan national institutions. Bureaucratic infighting and incompetence instead wasted any opportunity that the surge might have created for a withdrawal. Last year, President Obama became the first Nobel Peace Prize winner to bomb another Nobel Peace Prize winner when an American gunship launched a strike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan. Today, U.S. forces are fighting not just the Taliban but ISIS fighters as well. Obama has slowed down the pull out in large part because Afghan forces are unprepared to fight alone. Trump, meanwhile, has argued against both nation-building in Afghanistan and setting withdrawal dates (that insurgents would know) yet in favor of a long-term military presence in Afghanistan to keep it from becoming a failed states. Iraq By the time President Obama took office, a status of forces agreement had been negotiated between the U.S. and Iraq that would see all U.S. troops withdrawn by 2011. While Obama tried to keep a residual U.S. force of 10,000 in Iraq past that date, the Iraqi government was unwilling to extend immunity to U.S. troops who stayed in the country longer. Nevertheless, Obama campaigned [...]



Rudy Giuliani Says "Anything is Legal" in War, Including Taking Iraq's Oil

Sun, 11 Sep 2016 14:30:00 -0400

(image) Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, appearing on ABC's The Week this morning, told host George Stephanopoulos that Donald Trump's repeated assertion that the U.S. should have taken Iraq's oil following the 2003 invasion would have been legal, because "It's war...until the war is over, anything is legal."

Giuliani insisted the Republican presidential nominee was not talking about stealing Iraq's natural resources to benefit U.S. financial interests, but to keep the oil out of the hands of groups like ISIS "and distribute it in a proper way."

The former mayor, who for a while was dubbed "America's Mayor" for his handling of media relations during the chaotic days after 9/11 and was an early front-runner for the 2008 GOP nomination, appears to be oblivious of the many international treaties, conventions, and laws that prohibit the pillaging of private property in occupied countries.

Much like Donald Trump's insistence that the military would not refuse his orders to torture captives or bomb the families of suspected terrorists, Giuliani's ignorance of the concept of war crimes should be the kind of statement that "disqualifies" someone to be president, but this is 2016, where not immediately recognizing the name of a city in Syria gets you awarded the "Worst Week in Washington" by Beltway pundits.

Watch Giuliani's exchange on The Week below:




Gary Johnson's Aleppo Gaffe Is an Inexcusable Blunder, But Hardly Unique to Presidential Candidates

Thu, 08 Sep 2016 12:15:00 -0400

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson scored the biggest publicity his campaign has received thus far following a foreign-policy gaffe on MSNBC's Morning Joe earlier this morning. Interviewer Mike Barnicle asked Johnson what he would do about Aleppo if elected President. Johnson replied, "And what is Aleppo?" Barnicle, aghast, remarked "You're kidding," before informing the man currently polling in third place to be commander in chief of the most powerful military in the history of the world that Aleppo is the epicenter of the Syrian refugee crisis. Watch the full exchange below: src="http://player.theplatform.com/p/7wvmTC/MSNBCEmbeddedOffSite?guid=n_mj_aleppo_160908" width="635" height="500" frameborder="0"> This is a serious blunder by Johnson, who has said he will be slower to intervene militarily abroad than Hillary Clinton and that Donald Trump's promise to "bomb the shit out of ISIS" is uninformed policy. Johnson has pushed the idea that libertarians are not isolationists, but that there are better ways to help with situations such as Syria than sending U.S. troops, arming unvetted rebels, or using extralegal drone strikes which inevitably kill civilians. Johnson's Aleppo gaffe gives ammunition to those who think Libertarians are inherently unserious (especially about defense and foreign policy) and a pointless distraction from the two major-party candidates. Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough concluded today's show by remarking that Johnson's gaffe rendered him "unqualified to be president of the United States." Barnicle added that Johnson expressed "an appalling lack of knowledge." Following the segment, Johnson ran into MSNBC's Mark Halperin in the lobby of the NBC studios, who told the Libertarian candidate that his segment "is going to be a big flap, I promise you. It already is." Johnson admitted, "I'm incredibly frustrated with myself." And yet Johnson is hardly alone when it comes to Syria gaffes. Former Obama administration ambassador to Iraq, Chris Hill, followed Johnson on Morning Joe and mocked the former New Mexico governor's "blank stare." Hill predicted that "he will now be known as 'Aleppo Johnson'" and then called Aleppo "the capital of ISIS." In fact, Raqqa, not Aleppo, is widely considered the capital of the self-declared caliphate known as the Islamic State. The New York Times incorrectly referred to Aleppo as "the capital" of ISIS three times in its quick take on Johnson's screw-up before adding a correction to the bottom of the page. Even that correction required a correction, as it initially referred to Aleppo as Syria's capital, when it is in fact, Damascus. Foreign-policy misstatements actually are a staple of presidential elections. In 1999, George W. Bush scored 25 percent on a foreign policy quiz given to him by an NBC affiliate. He was unable to name the presidents of India, Pakistan, Chechnya, as well as the foreign minister of Mexico. During a 1976 debate with Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford insisted that "there is no Soviet domination of eastern Europe." Just last night in a forum about veterans issues and foreign policy to which Johnson was not invited, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared not to know that Libya is in a state of civil war. That the war is a result of the power vacuum created by the military intervention she aggressively pushed for while serving in Obama's cabinet makes her oversight particularly distressing. None of these examples of past campaign gaffes excuses Johnson's "blank stare" when asked about Aleppo. He and his running mate and the Libertarian Party have been insisting that they belong on the main debate stage, where they would prove both that their ideas are viable and their ability to effectively govern is based on sound footing. Choking on a[...]



Rep. Barbara Lee: I Didn't Support Libya Intervention, But I Support Hillary Clinton

Mon, 25 Jul 2016 22:30:00 -0400

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) is perhaps best known for casting the one vote in Congress against the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in Afghanistan days after 9/11. For her vote of conscience, she was pilloried by a traumatized, terrified, and hyper-patriotic American populace. She defended her bold and lonely vote on the floor of the House by arguing that "military action will not prevent further acts of terrorism against the United States." She added that she had "agonized" over the vote but felt it necessary for someone to urge "restraint." In hindsight, Rep. Lee's call for caution proved prescient, as that AUMF has been used to authorize military actions which had nothing to do with 9/11, but were instead vaguely lumped into what was once called the Global War on Terror, but which the Obama administration prefers to not define at all while it bombs countries and combatants that also had nothing to do with 9/11. On the floor of the Democratic National Convention (DNC), I asked Rep. Lee—a Hillary Clinton supoporter—if she has any issues with Clinton's career-long track record supporting military intervention. Of the U.S. military intervention in Libya, which many believe was a well-intentioned humanitarian mission that ultimately helped produce a failed state (and which Clinton still describes as an example of "smart power" even while President Obama calls it his greatest foreign policy "mistake") Lee makes very clear that "I did not support that."  However, the congresswoman wanted me to know that she believes "Secretary of State Clinton's foreign policy does emphasize diplomacy and development. Where I disagree [with Clinton] is often times with the use of force." Lee pointed to her votes against the AUMF in both Afghanistan and Iraq and added, "I've been calling for a new authorization and congressional debate on this new war footing," but said she believed in Clinton's ability to provide a "comprehensive strategy" and identify "the root causes of terrorism." She added that President Obama had submitted a new AUMF to Congress but that Congress has yet to put it up for a vote.  Watch Lee's speech from 9/14/01 below: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Zh_sxilhyV0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]



200+ Killed in Baghdad Terror Attack, Wave of Suicide Bombers in Saudi Arabia

Tue, 05 Jul 2016 16:52:00 -0400

(image) More than 200 people were killed in a suicide bombing in a shopping mall in a Shia area of Baghdad for which the Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility. The prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, called for three days of mourning, while facing protesters at his house and of his convoy who blamed lapses by the government for allowing such large amounts of explosives into residential neighborhoods.

ISIS promised more terrorist attacks on the West during Ramadan, but most of the attacks connected to them in the last month have come in majority Muslim countries like Bangladesh and Turkey. The Orlando shooting, in which 49 people were killed and where the shooter called 911 to pledge allegiance to ISIS, is the only major terrorist attack in the West during Ramadan, while more than 500 people have been killed in terrorist attacks and attacks on military targets attributed to ISIS or its adherents, with hundreds more killed by terror groups affiliating with ISIS, like Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

The end of Ramadan saw a suicide bomber detonating himself near the Saudi security office of the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, one of the holiest sites in Islam, after suicide bombers blew themselves up near a Shiite mosque in Qatif as well as near a U.S. consulate and a mosque in Jeddah. Analysts say the attacks represent a challenge by ISIS to Saudi Arabia's authority as guardian of Islam's holy cities of Mecca and Medina. There have been a number of ISIS attacks in the country in the last year.

Saudi authorities identified the Jeddah attacker as a Pakistani national who had been living in Saudi Arabia for 12 years. Pakistan said it would investigate the claim. A Saudi security spokesperson said the attackers intentions were "still unclear" since there was a mosque, local security forces, and a U.S. consulate in the vicinity of the bomber, whose vest only partially detonated.

Four security officers were killed in the attacks across Saudi Arabia. There were no claims of responsibility but authorities say the attacks bore the "hallmarks" of ISIS.




Obama Prolongs Unwinnable Wars

Thu, 09 Jun 2016 00:01:00 -0400

Barack Obama came into office intending to correct his predecessor's biggest mistakes by ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He didn't, because he made his own grievous mistake: choosing to prolong failure rather than admit it.  The error is not original with Obama. George W. Bush did the same thing in those wars, persisting in them mainly because he didn't know what else to do. So did Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon in Vietnam.  LBJ once confided his dilemma: "I can't get out. I can't finish it with what I have got. So what the hell can I do?" Nixon ran on a promise to end the war in Vietnam, but some 20,000 Americans died there under him—without changing the dismal outcome.  Even Obama's fiercest critics would not have imagined he would complete two terms in the White House without extricating the United States from either war. The peace candidate has been a war president. After withdrawing all forces from Iraq in 2011 and setting forth a plan to end the war in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, Obama let himself be sucked back in. We now have some 5,500 troops in Iraq and nearly 10,000 in Afghanistan—far fewer than under Bush but far more than zero.  The reason for staying was simple: to avert defeat, if only for the time being. After the U.S. vacated Iraq, the Islamic State emerged as a new threat to the Baghdad government and others in the region. As we headed for the exit in Afghanistan, the Taliban came roaring back.  Hawks took these developments as vindication, saying: "See? We should have continued the wars at full strength." But the outcomes only confirmed the futility of our efforts. The goal of invading Afghanistan and Iraq was not to put them under permanent U.S. occupation. It was to topple the ruling governments and enable their people to flourish on their own.  In that, we obviously came up pitifully short in both countries. They entered years of violent turmoil from which neither shows any sign of emerging. Yet Obama operates as though with more time and more American help, they can attain peace and fulfill our hopes.  What possible reason does he have to believe that? Bush insisted that the 2007 surge in Iraq would not only produce military success but bring about "a functioning democracy that polices its territory, upholds the rule of law, respects fundamental human liberties and answers to its people." In the ensuing years, Iraq failed to realize his shimmering vision. No surprise there. The question is why anyone ever dreamed it could.  Ditto for Afghanistan, where we have been mired for nearly 15 years. The point of Obama's surge, announced in 2009, was simple: to "create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans." Yet here we are 6 1/2 years later, still waiting for them to take ownership of their future.  The chief reason Obama made these new military commitments was simple: He treated defeat as intolerable. But the American efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are not likely to prevent defeat—only to postpone it.  Even if we could eliminate the militants, the conditions that spawned them would not abate. We crushed the insurgency once in Iraq, but the Baghdad regime didn't take advantage of the success to overcome the country's lethal divisions. The Kabul government has managed to preserve its hard-earned reputation for corruption and incompetence year after year.  One thing the U.S. government has demonstrated in this century is that we know nothing about nation building. We can't solve the problems afflicting these countries, and we have aligned ourselves with governments that also lack that capability. Our presence does more to create radicalism than to kill it.[...]