Posts Tagged ‘West Point’

Libya — “All necessary measures”

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011
  • Update on Military Operations in Libya Juan Miguel Muñoz of El País (Madrid) continues to provide perhaps the best reporting on what is actually going on in Libya on the ground. His reports in Spanish may be translated using the Google translate button at the bottom of this page.

    ***

    By U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 (17 March 2011), the Security Council

    4. Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures…to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi…

    Is Qadaffi a legitimate military target?

    Muammar Qaddafi continues to head and direct a command structure which, implementing his orders, employs sharpshooters to assassinate innocent civilians in cities like Misurata which have been under siege, to conduct artillery and other heavy weapons strikes against civilian areas of cities such as Misurata, and to detain and torture and assassinate other individuals in violation of the laws of war.

    Looking back over the last several weeks, it seems clear that this command structure, and the man who leads it, have systematically ordered and implemented a strategy of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in order to retain power.

    A key question which has not been answered by the Allies is:

    On what rationale is Qaddafi, the commander of this military and state apparatus that is killing civilians and committing war crimes, not considered to be a legitimate military target in order to protect the civilian population of Libya?

    Of course, even if he is a legitimate military target, there may be other practical and political considerations that militate against attacking him directly.

    Still, the clarification of the fact that Qaddafi is a legitimate military target could help concentrate his mind on departure options.

    President Obama, NATO, and Comand of Military Operations by Consensus

    The bravery of French, U.K. and U.S. pilots in establishing a no-fly zone over Libya and attacking Qadaffi’s military forces on the ground turned back the tide of Qaddafi’s advance on Benghazi, saving hundreds if not thousands of lives.

    Securing the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1973 was the product of brilliant diplomacy by the U.S. and other nations. But there are disturbing signs of growing confusion between the concepts of coalition-building to produce Security Council authorization, and the use of coalition-building to implement its terms by the use of military force.

    The decision to hand over the control of military operations to NATO, at a very early date in this military campaign, has resulted in a cessation of allied air strikes against Qaddafi’s mechanized forces, superior firepower, and trained military units.

    By asking NATO to command military operations and taking a backseat role in the leadership of NATO, Obama and the U.S. have in effect chosen to weaken the use of military force against Qaddafi, while simultaneously introducing a cause of dissension within NATO that could cause grievous damage to the alliance.

    NATO’s Secretary General, for example, now takes a position contrary to that of the U.S. with regard to arming the rebels in Libya. Such action is clearly permitted by Resolution 1973. Here we see a political difference regarding the resolution’s implementation.

    NATO takes decisions by consensus. That constrains NATO’s freedom of action in the military sphere by giving great influence to its weakest links on the Libyan question, Germany and Turkey.

    Moreover, by giving operational command to NATO, the U.S. has further constrained the freedom of action of France, the U.K. and the U.S. itself to take independent military action, as authorized by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.

    To what effect?

    Without access to information on the government’s inner deliberations and consultations with allies, one can pose the obvious questions but not, not immediately at least, provide definitive answers to them.

    The questions include:

    1. Do the U.S., its allies and NATO believe that, by halting close ground support by airstrikes against Qaddafi’s military as it proceeds to retake the cities on the road to Benghazi, they are strengthening the prospects for divisions within the Libyan military that could bring Qaddafi down? If so, is this belief based on a reasonable assessment of the facts?

    2. Can the battle be fought and won inside Qaddafi’s head or those of his inner circle, while allowing his military to regain momentum in its push to retake the cities in the east, and perhaps even Benghazi?

    3. Does the halt in close air support help the prospects for defections from Qaddafi’s regime? Is the talk of arming the civilian opposition an effective substitute for close ground support against Qaddafi’s armies?

    The Observer is reminded of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ famous dictum that if you strike at a king, you must strike to kill. In this case, that would mean at a minimum that Qaddafi departs Libya and takes up residence in a country that would guarantee that he could not direct international terrorist strikes from his new home.

    Obama’s Approach to International Affairs

    Obama’s approach to international affairs, including the use of force, even when authorized by a U.N. Security Council resolution, appears to be fundamentally intellectual and political in nature. The task is an intellectual challenge, resolved by brilliant analysis and decision on a policy. Implementation is left to others, as when the president traveled to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador on the eve of the military strikes against Libya.

    It seems to be an intellectual approach where the major action points are viewed as policy decisions, not winning territory on the ground in an armed conflict, though that is to be sure the hoped-for outcome. The president’s role is to focus on the policy decisions. And then he disengages and takes up another intellectual challenge.

    One recalls that between his apeech on Afghanistan at West Point on December 1, 2009 and his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo on December 10, 2009, the president turned his atention to an economic and jobs summit midway through this period, and then had to pull an all-nighter on Air Force One to try to pull his Nobel Prize Speech together.

    When one looks hard at the decisions he has made, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the president’s primary objective is “to manage” international conflicts and affairs, as domestic affairs, in a manner that will enable him to be reelected in 2012.

    Reelection is probably a goal of almost all politicians. Certainly there are exceptions. Winston Churchill comes to mind. But with Presdent Obama, it appears to be the primary and overriding goal.

    It is perhaps the prism through which the president’s actions can best be understood. In this sense, Obama’s current policy towards Libya seems to be succeeding.

    This hypothesis helps us understand, for example, why the president tolerates Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ repeated statements at odds with administration policy, or aimed at publicly pressuring the president in a manner that limits his freedom of action.

    If apparently successful in electoral terms, at least so far, the only things missing from the president’s approach are strategy, and attention to the details of implementation and the results they are producing, such as the advance of Qaddafi’s forces on the ground, once again, toward Benghazi.

    The Trenchant Observer

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    E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com

    Comments are invited

  • “The Magician” enthralls donors once again, in Kabul

    Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

    Once again the Magician has waived his green cape and dazzled the international donors who are paying for the war they are waging in Afghanistan to keep him in power. A donors conference was held in Kabul on July 20, 2010, launching “the Kabul process”.

    See Nipa Banerjee, “Too many conferences, too few results in Afghanistan,” The Ottowa Citizen, July 22, 2010; and
    Editorial, The Salt Lake Tribune, July 22, 2010

    The last time the donors met was at the London conference in January, where after committing massive corruption in the first round presidential elections in August 2009, and refusing to replace the members of the Independent Electoral Commission who were directly responsible for certifying that fraud, the Magician dazzled the internationals with his talk of re-integration of the Taliban.

    Exactly nothing, or at least nothing desirable, has come of that talk of re-integration. But because the U.S. and its allies can see no way out of Afghanistan, they long for a magical ending.

    In London, the Magician succeeded in changing the subject, with the question of free and fair elections receding to something like the 25th goal in the final communiqué of the conference.

    One has to marvel at such legerdemain, even if the objects of manipulation are incredibly easy targets. Among them all there does not seem to be more than six months of collective memory. None of them seem to recall the nine years of empty promises the Magician has plied them with, telling each of them exactly what they wanted to hear at exactly the right moment.

    While the Magician promised to clean up the corruption in his government, the level of corruption doubled between 2007 and 2010.

    While the Magician promised to build up good governance and the national police, he recently replaced Hamid Atmar, the Minister of the Interior in charge of the national police, one of a handful of Afghan ministers the U.S. and its allies believed to be highly competent. Another, Amrullah Saleh, the head of Afghan intelligence, was fired at the same time. Both were former officials of the Northern Alliance, and were apparently fired to satisfy Pakistani demands.

    Nonetheless, year in, year out, the internationals are enthralled by the latest spell cast upon them by the Magician, for it contains exactly what they want to hear.

    The magic is powerful. Its spell enables the internationals to believe that they can negotiate a victory with the Taliban and other insurgent groups, precisely when the latter have the momentum, and believe they must only wait for the Americans and their allies to withdraw to claim victory.

    The Magician’s powers of persuasion are so great that he even convinced the donors to channel 50% of their financial support directly to him and the central government. Given his government’s record of corruption, that was a magical achievement in and of itself, of stupendous proportions.

    Let us hope there is a magical ending in Afghanistan that allows NATO troops to withdraw. For otherwise, with more waves of the Magician’s green cape and whatever promises the allies may wish or need to hear, it looks like a long, hard slog, with neither good governance nor victory in sight.

    The Trenchant Observer

    www.trenchantobserver.com
    Twitter: www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv
    E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com

    Comments are invited. Please add to the discussion and tell the Observer why he is wrong. Or right. Or some of one and some of the other.

    General Petraeus, the Haqqani network, and moral clarity in Afghanistan

    Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

    Updated

    To find our way in Afghanistan, we need to find our compass.

    Our moral compass.

    General David Petraeus, according to reports, is pushing for the Obama administration to add the Haqqani network to the terrorist organizations list.  They are one of the principal groups who are blowing up everyone in suicide attacks in Afghanistan. Senator Carl Levin (D.-Michigan) made a similar suggestion upon returning to Washington from a trip to Afghanistan last week.

    See Mark Landler and Thom Shanker, “U.S. May Label Pakistan Militants as Terrorists,” New York Times, July 13, 2010 (July 14 print edition).

    Petraeus’ inclination, as reported, provides a ray of light, a ray of hope.  A hint of moral clarity.

    With that clarity, perhaps there is another road in Afghanistan other than turning its people over to warlords and terrorists like the Haqqani network. Perhaps there is another path other than striking deals with Pakistani generals and shady Pakistani intelligence elements who have been backing the Taliban. Perhaps we can find another way to leave the country without abandoning its women, or surrendering hegemony over the South to Pakistan acting through its ties to Afghan insurgent groups, planting the seeds for future civil war between the North and the South.

    The huge question is, of course, “Why wasn’t the Haqqani network already on the terrorist organizations list?

    Not only was it not on the list, but we have gone aong with Karzai’s efforts to remove a large number of names of Taliban leaders from the U.N. sanctions list.

    What are the reasons for omitting the Haqqani network from the terrorist organizations list, for seeking removal of Taliban leaders from the U.N. sanctions list, and for negotiating with Pakistan to get them to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table?

    The administration needs to be candid with the American people about the kind of Afghanistan it is prepared to negotiate with Karzai, the Haqqani network, and the Taliban.

    What we get out of Washington are platitudes about these groups accepting the Afghan constitution, and laying down their arms. What does this mean, what does this look like when you flesh it out?

    The reasons we have heard so far to justify these actions, which appear to be based both on dubious assumptions and on dubious moral propositions, need to be subjected to intense and continuing scrutiny–in the full light of day.

    What President Obama has apparently failed to grasp is that without a moral compass, the U.S. and NATO can neither achieve their essential goals in Afghanistan nor exit on terms short of catastrophic defeat.

    Viewed from afar, at the present the White House’s only goal seems to be to help Karzai solidify his grip on power so we can beat a hasty retreat.  This is a harsh judgment but one, it is submitted, that is supported by the facts.

    It is a view, moreover, that is shared by many in the region, who look more to American actions than to the finely-tuned policy pronouncements that emanate from Washington.

    Hopefully, Petraeus can bring moral clarity to his job and to the president’s thinking about Afghanistan.

    The moral compass Obama must find and use is an American one. The American people will not support a war without moral purpose for an indefinite period of time.

    A democratic path?

    It is time for President Obama, with Petraeus’ assistance and experience building the institutions of democracy in Iraq, to reconsider the now-jettisoned democratic project in Afghanistan.

    That project foundered on the rock of U.S. passivity in the face of Karzai’s massive fraud in the presidential elections last August, and its unwillingness to open up the political process by forcing Karzai to fix the electoral machinery so a fair second round election for president could be held.

    Karzai may be the obstacle on the democratic path.

    See Chibli Mallat, “Law, war and the Petraeus doctrine: How to take democracy seriously in Iraq and the AfPak theater,” The Daily Star (Beirut), June 24, 2010. Interestingly, Mallat suggests Karzai be persuaded to leave or removed from office, with arresting him for the election fraud being one option.

    Yet the democratic path may be the only alternative that gives Afghan soldiers and police a vision of the future that is worth fighting for.

    As President Obama noted at his West Point commencement speech on May 22, 2010,

    (P)reparing for today, I turned to…the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes. And reflecting on his Civil War experience, he said, and I quote, “To fight out a war you must believe in something and want something with all your might. So must you do to carry anything else to an end worth reaching.” Holmes went on, “More than that, you must be willing to commit yourself to a course, perhaps a long and hard one, without being able to foresee exactly where you will come out.”

    Our challenge in Afghanistan, also in a civil war setting, is quite similar. We must help the Afghan soldier and policeman find and have something to believe in and something to want with all of his or her might. Only then will an Afghan army and an Afghan police force be able to take over from the ISAF forces and defend their country against the Taliban.

    The Taliban have such a belief, anchored in part in their religious faith.

    What can the United States and NATO offer an Afghan soldier or policeman that can counter that?

    This is perhaps the most critical question in Afghanistan, and one whose answer will largely determine the success of our counterinsurgency strategy there.

    Free and fair elections and representative government, however crude? The rule of law, at least as a roadmap to be followed? Some form of democracy?

    This was the path we followed in Iraq. It is time to reconsider the democratic project in Afghanistan. With all options open for consideration.

    The democratic road may be the only one by which we can get to where we want to go, period. Moreover, it may be the only road that can maintain the support of the American people, and the support of the peoples of the other democracies with whom we are allied, for a war that will surely continue for quite some time.

    Let us consider a central fact. America’s greatest weapon in the world is not its drone aircraft or its special operations forces, however useful these may be at the right moment and in the right place.

    America’s greatest weapon is its story and the vision it has pursued for over two centuries. This vision is a vision of democracy, of respect for law and individual rights, and of the security and prosperity that are possible in a democratic society governed by law.

    It is parochial to assume that our vision and our values have no appeal to the people of Afghanistan, or that our vision and values are weaker than and cannot triumph over the those of the Taliban.

    To ask America to fight in Afghanistan without this vision and without these values, is to ask the country to fight with one arm tied behind its back, in a long and grinding struggle which ultimately it cannot win.

    To engage the people of Afghanistan in a common struggle, not for warlordism or a coalition with the Taliban and the Haqqani network, but for the achievement of commonly shared values, and for the security that can be achieved through a government based on the consent of the governed and the rule of law, would be to commit to the democratic road.

    As suggested above, the democratic road in Afghanistan may be the only one that gets us where we want to go. Petraeus, with his intellectual grasp of the critical importance of governance in counterinsurgency doctrine and his direct experience in Iraq, must already sense this.

    Where would Iraq be today if it were not for steadfast U.S. support for the development of democratic institutions, and for adherence to the rule of law? It’s worth thinking about.

    It’s worth thinking about now. The September 18 National Assembly elections are barely two months away. Yet instead of focusing on building a democratic process starting with those elections, Secretary of State Clinton is off to Pakistan to see what kind of a deal we can make with the Pakistanis on Afghanistan.

    It was on just such a trip in November, it will be recalled, that we reportedly struck a deal with the Pakistanis the outlines of which we seem to be following. It resulted in our abandoning negotiations in Kabul to form a national unity government with Abdullah and Karzai, or to proceed to replace those in the electoral commission behind Karzai’s fraud so that a fair second round election could be held.

    Why we are playing Karzai’s game, instead of the democratic game in Kabul, is a question which calls out for a full and complete answer to the American people from the President of the United States.

    The Trenchant Observer

    www.trenchantobserver.com
    Twitter: www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv
    E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com

    Comments are invited. Please add to the discussion and tell the Observer why he is wrong. Or right. Or some of one and some of the other.

    The New York Times’ Bob Herbert on dire Afghanistan situation and “the courage to leave”

    Friday, June 11th, 2010

    In a must-read article, Bob Herbert in a op-ed column to be published Saturday in the New York Times describes the current situation in Afghanistan, as follows:

    There is no good news coming out of the depressing and endless war in Afghanistan. There once was merit to our incursion there, but that was long ago. Now we’re just going through the tragic motions, flailing at this and that, with no real strategy or decent end in sight.

    Regarding the much-touted surge in Marja and the long-announced offensive in Kandahar, “Forget about it,” he concludes. Now the talk is no longer of an “offensive” but rather of a “civilian surge” in Kandahar. The government of Hamid Karzai is “breathtakingly corrupt and incompetent — and widely unpopular to boot,” he writes.

    Further,

    There is no overall game plan, no real strategy or coherent goals, to guide the fighting of U.S. forces. It’s just a mind-numbing, soul-chilling, body-destroying slog, month after month, year after pointless year.

    Americans, he says, “have zoned out of this war,” and, “They don’t even want to think about it.”

    Why in the world should the small percentage of the population that has volunteered for military service shoulder the entire burden of this hapless, endless effort? The truth is that top American officials do not believe the war can be won but do not know how to end it. So we get gibberish about empowering the unempowerable Afghan forces and rebuilding a hopelessly corrupt and incompetent civil society.

    Hebert concludes,

    If we don’t have the courage as a people to fight and share in the sacrifices when our nation is at war, if we’re unwilling to seriously think about the war and hold our leaders accountable for the way it is conducted, if we’re not even willing to pay for it, then we should at least have the courage to pull our valiant forces out of it.

    –Bob Hebert, “The Courage to Leave,” The New York Times, June 12, 2010 (print edition)

    See also,

    Dexter Filkins, “Karzai Is Said to Doubt West Can Defeat Taliban,” The New York Tiimes, June 11, 2010.

    Sadly, as The Observer noted on October 6, 2009,

    The failure in Afghanistan has been a diplomatic and political failure, not just a military failure. Military strategy will falter if diplomatic and political strategy does not keep pace. We cannot succeed in Afghanistan by proceeding on the naive belief that we can “stand up” a legitimate government born of fraud, or that we can “stand up” an Afghan army both capable of defeating the Taliban and loyal to a government lacking in legitimacy and losing public support. Legitimacy is the key to developing both a more effective government and a more capable army and police. Without legitimacy, both possibilities appear to be but chimeras in the desert sand.

    Bob Herbert’s article should be mandatory reading for every American, and every citizen of every coalition country fighting in Afghanistan. The job of the journalist, at the highest levels, is “to speak truth to power.”

    Now, as in Vietnam, we wait to see how long it will take “power” to hear, and act upon, that truth.

    The Trenchant Observer

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    E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com
    Twitter: www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv