Obama’s worst mistake: failing to plan for the ‘day after’ in Libya

CNN reports: President Barack Obama said the worst mistake of his presidency was a lack of planning for the aftermath of the 2011 toppling of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

“Probably failing to plan for the day after what I think was the right thing to do in intervening in Libya,” he said in a Fox News interview aired Sunday.

This is not the first time in recent weeks he has talked about Libya and the NATO-led intervention which resulted in Gadhafi’s death in October of that year, months after NATO first intervened. [Continue reading…]

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Everyone says the Libya intervention was a failure. They’re wrong

Shadi Hamid writes: Libya and the 2011 NATO intervention there have become synonymous with failure, disaster, and the Middle East being a “shit show” (to use President Obama’s colorful descriptor). It has perhaps never been more important to question this prevailing wisdom, because how we interpret Libya affects how we interpret Syria and, importantly, how we assess Obama’s foreign policy legacy.

Of course, Libya, as anyone can see, is a mess, and Americans are reasonably asking if the intervention was a mistake. But just because it’s reasonable doesn’t make it right.

Most criticisms of the intervention, even with the benefit of hindsight, fall short. It is certainly true that the intervention didn’t produce something resembling a stable democracy. This, however, was never the goal. The goal was to protect civilians and prevent a massacre.

Critics erroneously compare Libya today to any number of false ideals, but this is not the correct way to evaluate the success or failure of the intervention. To do that, we should compare Libya today to what Libya would have looked like if we hadn’t intervened. By that standard, the Libya intervention was successful: The country is better off today than it would have been had the international community allowed dictator Muammar Qaddafi to continue his rampage across the country.

Critics further assert that the intervention caused, created, or somehow led to civil war. In fact, the civil war had already started before the intervention began. As for today’s chaos, violence, and general instability, these are more plausibly tied not to the original intervention but to the international community’s failures after intervention. [Continue reading…]

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Syria shows that Russia built an effective military. Now how will Putin use it?

The Washington Post reports: As Russia turned the Syrian conflict into an exhibition ground for its newly robust military over the past six months, its neighbors were watching with rapt interest.

This, after all, was a sterling opportunity to assess Russia’s new battlefield capabilities, in the form of ship-based cruise missiles, improved logistics and elite units. And on display, too, were Russia’s weaknesses.

“It is like a game of football,” said Janis Berzins, the managing director at the Center for Security and Strategic Research of the National Defense Academy of Latvia, a NATO member nation that borders Russia. “If you’re playing against Germany, then you go watch Germany play, right? It’s the natural thing to do.”

No one expects Russia and NATO to engage in a conventional war anytime soon. But with limited, consequential interventions in two conflicts, Ukraine and Syria, in the past two years, President Vladimir Putin had shown the Russian military’s growing proficiency as well as his appetite to use force to achieve his greater geopolitical goals. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. considering boosting forces in Europe for defense against Russia

Military Times reports: The Pentagon is discussing plans to permanently move one or more Army brigade combat teams back to Europe, where the top American commander has signaled an urgent need to shore up allied defenses against the Russians, Military Times has learned.

If approved, the move could involve thousands of troops — an average BCT is composed of between 3,000 and 5,000 personnel — and mark the first time in decades that U.S. European Command has increased its footprint on the continent.

The EUCOM Commander, Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, discussed his proposals with top-level Pentagon officials while in Washington last week, according to a defense official familiar with the plans. Any increase would come in addition to the brigade-size force that would rotate through Eastern Europe as part of the $3.4 billion “European Reassurance Initiative,” which was included in the Pentagon’s latest budget request. [Continue reading…]

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NATO accuses Russia of ‘weaponising’ immigrants

Financial Times reports: Nato’s top commander accused Russia and the Syrian regime on Tuesday of “weaponising” immigration by using bombs aimed at civilians to deliberately cause large flows of refugees and challenge European political resolve.

General Philip Breedlove, Nato’s supreme allied commander, said that the types of bombs being used in Syria — especially the Assad regime’s barrel bombs — were designed to force civilians from their homes.

Asked at a Senate hearing whether Russia was aggravating the Syrian refugee crisis in order to divide countries in the EU, he replied: “I can’t find any other reason for them [air strikes against civilians] other than to cause refugees to be on the move and make them someone else’s problem.” He added: “I use the term weaponisation of immigration.” [Continue reading…]

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Refugees are becoming Russia’s weapon of choice in Syria

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Simon Tisdall writes: Excerpts from a report by Turkey’s security services, published on Tuesday in Hurriyet newspaper, highlighted Turkish suspicions that Russia was purposefully attempting to “weaponise” the refugee crisis.

The report warned: “Regime forces and allies are trying to create a new refugee wave by moving towards Azaz [in northern Syria] … There are 10 refugee camps between this town and Turkey’s town of Kilis, approximately along an eight-kilometre line. The residents of these camps will likely flee and seek shelter in Turkey while these camps would be taken by the PYD or Assad forces.”

Security officials told the paper that Russia was employing tactics previously used in the first Chechen war in the north Caucasus in the 1990s, known as the “Grozny model”. This involved forcibly emptying urban residential areas through a campaign of attrition against the local population. Once this was achieved, heavy weapons were deployed to eradicate opposing forces, entailing widespread destruction of homes and infrastructure.

Given Assad’s previous documented use of barrel bombs, chemical weapons, airstrikes and heavy artillery against civilian areas, Russia’s alleged tactics hardly seem new. What appears to be different is the deliberate creation of tactical refugee emergencies to influence outside actors who must deal with the fallout.

Speaking at the weekend, US senator John McCain, a fierce critic of the Obama administration’s policy of non-intervention and a noted hawk, said Russia’s strategy was “to exacerbate the refugee crisis and use it as a weapon to divide the transatlantic alliance and undermine the European project”.

European politicians attending the weekend Munich security conference, prior to Monday’s attacks, echoed McCain’s concerns saying shops, schools and hospitals were being targeted in an attempt to force the local population to capitulate and increase the flow of refugees towards Turkey and Europe. [Continue reading…]

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Can the U.S. take action to protect Aleppo?

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Michael Ignatieff and Leon Wieseltier write: Aleppo is an emergency, requiring emergency measures. Are we no longer capable of emergency action? It is also an opportunity, perhaps the last one, to save Syria. Aleppo is the new Sarajevo, the new Srebrenica, and its fate should be to the Syrian conflict what the fate of Sarajevo and Srebrenica were to the Bosnian conflict: the occasion for the United States to bestir itself, and for the West to say with one voice, “Enough.” It was after Srebrenica and Sarajevo — and after the air campaign with which the West finally responded to the atrocities — that the United States undertook the statecraft that led to the Dayton accords and ended the war in Bosnia.

The conventional wisdom is that nothing can be done in Syria, but the conventional wisdom is wrong. There is a path toward ending the horror in Aleppo — a perfectly realistic path that would honor our highest ideals, a way to recover our moral standing as well as our strategic position. Operating under a NATO umbrella, the United States could use its naval and air assets in the region to establish a no-fly zone from Aleppo to the Turkish border and make clear that it would prevent the continued bombardment of civilians and refugees by any party, including the Russians. [Continue reading…]

Any military strategy that’s designed “to recover our moral standing” is dubious — and not simply because there are those who doubt that the U.S. possessed much the moral standing in the first place.

The effectiveness of a military strategy can’t be assessed on the basis of the worthiness of its non-military goals.

The authors in their sweeping assertion that they are offering “a perfectly realistic path,” dodge the awkward details on how this would work.

Are they assuming that once the boundaries of this no-fly zone had been defined, Russian and Syrian aircraft would then obediently comply?

Or do they assume that as soon as a few jets had been shot down the intended lesson would have swiftly been learned?

Turkey already shot down a Russian jet on the edge of this arena. What lessons, if any, have been drawn from that incident and are they now being applied to this future scenario?

“If the Russians and Syrians sought to prevent humanitarian protection and resupply of the city, they would face the military consequences,” we are told by the armchair generals.

“Military consequences” is a phrase of political bluster — especially when coming from two writers who profess no military expertise. If pressed to spell out what these military consequences might be, I expect Ignatieff and Wieseltier would defer to the actual generals.

My point here is not to dismiss the idea that at this late hour there might be a constructive military intervention in Syria, but simply to say that such an argument needs more detail and substance and fewer passionate declarations. It needs to credibly show how this would work rather than simply why it should be undertaken.

Currently, Obama administration officials are cynically curtailing all discussion about their military options by claiming that they only have two choices: start World War III or do essentially nothing (beyond repeating their mantra that their is no military solution in Syria).

“What do you want me to do, go to war with Russia?” John Kerry is reported to have asked a Syrian NGO representative in London last week.

The choice is false but it is gladly being picked up by ideological anti-interventionists who are attracted by the rhetorical utility of this device when offered to those who have little interest in questioning its validity.

To those who insist on framing this crisis in terms of World War III, I would ask two questions: What makes you think it hasn’t already begun? And why do you think its defining attribute necessarily involves a clash between the U.S. and Russia?

A world war involves global instability and a contagion of violent conflict. There are active conflicts in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, and Libya. There is unrest in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Palestine, Israel, and elsewhere.

As the EU struggles to handle the refugee crisis, European unity is being fractured, placing its future in jeopardy.

If through the power of inattention, Americans could indeed successfully insulate themselves from the effects of global strife, then perhaps this could endure as a land of blissful ignorance.

Instead, what is more predictable is that the more disengaged the U.S. becomes, the less influence it will have and the fewer options it can consider.

No one will benefit from America’s self-imposed paralysis.

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Russian aggression drives Swedish defense spending

Defense News reports: Sweden’s discomfort over Russia’s long-term political and military ambitions in the Baltic Sea and High North has risen further after a senior military chief stated the Nordic state could find itself under attack “within a few years.”

The warning, made by Swedish Armed Forces’ Maj. Gen. Anders Brännström, came the same week that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed, in the organization’s Annual Report, that Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers accompanied by Sukhoi Su-27 jets conducted a simulated “training” nuclear strike targeting key Swedish defense installations in March 2013.

Brännström stated, in an internal military document forwarded to officers and soldiers attending the armed forces’ Markstrids’ (Land Combat) conference in the sub-Arctic town of Boden, that the changed post-Cold War security landscape will require Sweden to downgrade international missions and prioritize reinforcing national defense readiness and capabilities. [Continue reading…]

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If Russia started a war in the Baltics, NATO would lose — quickly

Dan De Luce writes: If Russian tanks and troops rolled into the Baltics tomorrow, outgunned and outnumbered NATO forces would be overrun in under three days. That’s the sobering conclusion of war games carried out by a think tank with American military officers and civilian officials.

“The games’ findings are unambiguous: As currently postured, NATO cannot successfully defend the territory of its most exposed members,” said a report by the RAND Corp., which led the war gaming research.

In numerous tabletop war games played over several months between 2014-2015, Russian forces were knocking on the doors of the Estonian capital of Tallinn or the Latvian capital of Riga within 36 to 60 hours. U.S. and Baltic troops — and American airpower — proved unable to halt the advance of mechanized Russian units and suffered heavy casualties, the report said.

The study argues that NATO has been caught napping by a resurgent and unpredictable Russia, which has begun to boost defense spending after having seized the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine and intervened in support of pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine. In the event of a potential Russian incursion in the Baltics, the United States and its allies lack sufficient troop numbers, or tanks and armored vehicles, to slow the advance of Russian armor, said the report by RAND’s David Shlapak and Michael Johnson. [Continue reading…]

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Russia carried out practice nuclear strike against Sweden

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The Local reports: When Russian planes carried out a simulated attack against Sweden in 2013, it included nuclear warfare, a Nato report has revealed.

The training mission by the Russian military took place just beyond the eastern edge of the Stockholm archipelago three years ago. It grabbed global headlines because Sweden’s military was slow to react due to staff being on vacation and had to rely on help from Nato.

Several Swedish media outlets had previously speculated that the exercises also included a simulated nuclear attack, but this was never confirmed.

Now, Nato’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has revealed that this was indeed the case – a revelation that appears in the defence alliance’s annual report.

The text, which was released last week but only widely reported in Sweden on Wednesday, also confirmed that four Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers had participated in the training exercise as well as two Sukhoi Su-27 jets. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. fortifying Europe’s east to deter Putin

The New York Times reports: President Obama plans to substantially increase the deployment of heavy weapons, armored vehicles and other equipment to NATO countries in Central and Eastern Europe, a move that administration officials said was aimed at deterring Russia from further aggression in the region.

The White House plans to pay for the additional weapons and equipment with a budget request of more than $3.4 billion for military spending in Europe in 2017, several officials said Monday, more than quadrupling the current budget of $789 million. The weapons and equipment will be used by American and NATO forces, ensuring that the alliance can maintain a full armored combat brigade in the region at all times.

Though Russia’s military activity has quieted in eastern Ukraine in recent months, Moscow continues to maintain a presence there, working with pro-Russian local forces. Administration officials said the additional NATO forces were calculated to send a signal to President Vladimir V. Putin that the West remained deeply suspicious of his motives in the region.

“This is not a response to something that happened last Tuesday,” a senior administration official said. “This is a longer-term response to a changed security environment in Europe. This reflects a new situation, where Russia has become a more difficult actor.” [Continue reading…]

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As Poland lurches to the right, many in Europe look on in alarm

The New York Times reports: In the few weeks since Poland’s new right-wing government took over, its leaders have alarmed the domestic opposition and moderate parties throughout Europe by taking a series of unilateral actions that one critic labeled “Putinist.”

Under their undisputed leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, they pardoned the notorious head of the security services, who was appealing a three-year sentence for abuse of his office from their previous years in power; tried to halt the production of a play they deemed “pornographic”; threatened to impose controls on the news media; and declared, repeatedly and emphatically, that they would overrule the previous government’s promise to accept refugees pouring into Europe.

But the largest flash point, so far, has been a series of questionable parliamentary maneuvers by the government and the opposition that has allowed a dispute over who should sit on the country’s powerful Constitutional Tribunal to metastasize into a full-blown constitutional crisis — with thousands of protesters from all sides taking to the streets.

Countries across Europe have seen nationalist movements rise in popularity, particularly in the wake of the refugee crisis and the terrorist attacks in Paris. But Poland’s rightward lurch under the newly empowered Law and Justice Party is unsettling what had been the region’s strongest economy and a model for the struggling post-Soviet states of Eastern Europe. [Continue reading…]

Bloomberg reports: Poland’s government replaced the head of NATO members’ training facility in Warsaw after Defense Ministry officials and military police entered its provisional office after midnight on Friday.

The Counter Intelligence Center of Excellence was staffed with officials who weren’t supported by the Polish government, Deputy Defense Minister Bartosz Kownacki told RMF radio. The ministry appointed Colonel Robert Bala as the acting director of the center, which hasn’t yet been accredited by NATO, an alliance official said. [Continue reading…]

On November 12, AFP reported: Tens of thousands of protesters poured into Warsaw’s streets on Wednesday for a demonstration organised by the far right, marching under the slogan “Poland for the Polish” and burning an EU flag.

Police said 25,000 people joined the march, which marked the anniversary of Poland’s return to independence after the First World War, while organisers put the numbers at 50,000.

“God, honour, homeland,” chanted the protesters as they marched under a sea of red-and-white Polish flags.

Demonstrators trampled and burned a European Union flag at one point, while a banner added to the anti-EU theme with the slogan “EU macht frei” (“Work makes you free” in German), a reference to the slogan over the gates at Auschwitz.

“Yesterday it was Moscow, today it’s Brussels which takes away our freedom,” chanted one group of protesters.
Other banners read “Great Catholic Poland” and “Stop Islamisation”. [Continue reading…]

Ivan Krastev writes: The new government has pushed forward three staggering changes. The man chosen to oversee police and intelligence agencies is a party stalwart who received a three-year suspended sentence for abusing power in his previous role as head of the anti-corruption office, signaling that political loyalty is above the law.

The government has purged European Union flags from government press briefings, demonstrating that it sees Polish national interests in opposition to European values.

And it has weakened the country’s separation of powers by rejecting the previous Parliament’s nominees to the constitutional court — and instead appointed its own candidates, provoking a constitutional crisis.

Why has Poland, the poster child of post-Communist success and Europe’s best economic performer of the last decade, suddenly taken an illiberal turn? Why, despite the profound public mistrust of politicians, are people ready to elect parties eager to dismantle any constraints on government’s power?

For one thing, the Law and Justice Party bet on a form of illiberal democracy because it succeeded in Hungary. The Orban model of rebuking the European Union while accepting billions in aid money has worked. So have Mr. Orban’s efforts to consolidate power by demonizing his political opponents. Hungary’s economy has not collapsed as critics predicted; nor did Mr. Orban’s party lose at the ballot box. [Continue reading…]

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Range of frustrations reached boil as Turkey shot down Russian jet

The New York Times reports: As Turkey and Russia promised on Wednesday not to go to war over the downing of a Russian fighter jet, Turkey’s still-nervous NATO allies and just about everyone else were left wondering why, when minor violations of airspace are relatively common and usually tolerated, Ankara decided this time to risk a serious confrontation with Moscow by taking military action.

The reply from the Turkish government so far has been consistent: Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Turkey had repeatedly called in Russia’s ambassador to complain about bombing raids near its border and previous airspace incursions by Russian aircraft. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday evening — and a Pentagon spokesman later confirmed — that Turkish forces had warned the Russian plane 10 times in five minutes to leave before a Turkish F-16 shot it down.

“I personally was expecting something like this, because in the past months there have been so many incidents like that,” Ismail Demir, Turkey’s undersecretary of national defense, said in an interview. “Our engagement rules were very clear, and any sovereign nation has a right to defend its airspace.” [Continue reading…]

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Could downing of Russian jet over Turkey really lead to a wider war?

By David J Galbreath, University of Bath

The dangerous skies over Syria have now earned their reputation. The Turkish foreign ministry has confirmed that its forces had shot down a fighter aircraft near the Turkish border with Syria. The Russian foreign ministry confirmed soon afterwards that it has lost an SU-24 over Syria.

The situation remains tense: two pilots were filmed ejecting from the stricken aircraft; one is reported to be in the hands of pro-Turkish Turkmen rebels along the border but the fate of the other is unknown – early reports from Reuters said it had video of the second pilot seemingly dead on the ground.

Russian president, Vladimir Putin, called the incident a “a stab in the back, carried out by the accomplices of terrorists”. He said the shooting down would have “significant consequences, including for Russia-Turkish relations”.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, is understood to have cancelled a planned trip to Turkey and NATO announced there would be a meeting of its North Atlantic Council in Brussels to discuss the shootdown.

The bigger picture

This comes at a time, following the Paris attacks, when the US and its Western allies had been reaching a tentative agreement with Russia to solve the previous impasse over a possible transition of power in Syria. Turkey and other Sunni Middle Eastern states are ranged against the Assad regime and not happy at the prospect of a deal that would leave him in power – even if only on a temporary basis. Iran and Russia have been keen to see their Syrian ally remain in power, although Russia has been coming around to the idea of a transition but has steadfastly argued that it is imperative to defeat Islamic State militarily first.

[Read more…]

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What would the world look like if we defeated ISIS?

Paul Mason writes: Isis attacked civilians irrespective of their position on Islam or imperialist war; it attacked, specifically, symbols of a secular, liberal lifestyle. It did these things because that is what it is fighting: the west, its people, their values and their lifestyle.

In formulating the UK’s response – with or without Nato – the problems are large. The electorate mistrusts offensive military action. It fears – rightly on the basis of the evidence from Iraq and Afghanistan – that expeditionary warfare creates mainly chaos, opening a space for sectarian conflict, jihadism and killing civilians. Western electorates have no taste for the kind of allies we would need to reimpose the old “order” on the territories Isis operates in. Bashar al-Assad and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are not only serial human-rights violators; they have each proved ready to attack those fighting Isis – the Kurds and the secular resistance.

But the biggest challenge comes if you imagine what victory would look like. Isis-held territory being reoccupied by armies that, this time, can withstand the suicide bombings, truck bombs and kidnappings that a defeated Isis would unleash. Mosques and madrassas across the region stripped of their jihadi preachers. A massive programme of economic development focused on human capital – education, healthcare and institution building – as well as physical reconstruction. Nonsectarian, democratic states in Iraq and Syria and an independent Kurdistan state spanning parts of both countries. To achieve this you would need to unleash surveillance, policing and military action on a scale that could only be acceptable to western electorates if carried out with a restraint and accountability not shown in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The alternative is to disengage, contain Isis, deal with the refugees and try to ignore the beheading videos.

In reality, this question is only really posed for three countries that have the power diplomatically and militarily to take significant action: Britain, France and the US.

But that’s not the main question Isis posed last Friday. The main question is the one John Maynard Keynes threw at Britain’s political leadership in 1939: what is the world going to look like when we win?

By answering this, the British and American populations were persuaded to endure total war in the fight against Nazism. So the question now is not how many bombs we want to drop on the HQ of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It is: what do we want at the peace conference, and what will our own society look like after the struggle is over? [Continue reading…]

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