5 September 2013

Obama's Tightrope Walk ***


By George Friedman

Last week began with certainty that an attack on Syria was inevitable and even imminent. It ended with the coalition supporting the attack somewhere between falling apart and not coming together, and with U.S. President Barack Obama making it clear that an attack was inevitable, maybe in a month or so, if Congress approves, after Sept. 9 when it reconvenes. This is a comedy in three parts: the reluctant warrior turning into the raging general and finding his followers drifting away, becoming the reluctant warrior again. 

Begin with the fact that the United States was not the first country calling for military intervention in Syria after pictures of what appeared to be the dead from a chemical attack surfaced. That honor went to France, Turkey and Britain, each of whom called for action. Much as with Libya, where France and Italy were the first and most eager to intervene, the United States came late to the feast.

The United States did not have any overriding national interest in Syria. It has been hostile for a long time to al Assad's regime. It has sympathy for the Sunni insurgents but has drawn the conclusion that the collapse of al Assad is not likely to lead to a democratic regime respecting human rights, but to an Islamist regime with links to al Qaeda. The United States is in the process of recovering from Iraq and Afghanistan, and is not eager to try its hand at nation building in Syria, especially given the players. Therefore the American attitude toward Syria has been to express deep concern while staying as far away as possible, much as the rest of the world has done.

What started to draw the United States into the matter was a statement made by the president in 2012, when he said that the use of chemical weapons would be a red line. He didn't mean he wanted to intervene. He set the red line because he figured that it was the one thing al Assad wouldn't try. It was an attempt to stay out, not an announcement of interest. In fact, there had been previous evidence of small-scale chemical attacks, and the president had dodged commitment.

Washington's Human Rights Faction

This time, with major foreign partners demanding action, the president felt he had no choice. A significant faction pressed him on this in his foreign policy apparatus. There were those, like National Security Adviser Susan Rice, who favored the use of military force in the events of war crimes and human rights violations on a major scale. One would have thought that she would have supported the war in Iraq against Saddam Hussein, the epitome of war crimes and human rights violations, but she didn't, and that's another matter. The point is that, leaving Iraq, this faction felt that the United States failed to carry out its moral obligations in Rwanda, and applauded the intervention in Kosovo. 

This faction is not small and appeals to an important tendency in American political culture that sees World War II as the perfect war, because it was waged against an unspeakable evil, and not for strategic or material gain. That war was more complicated than that, but there was an element of truth to it. And the world, on the whole, approved of American involvement there. For them, this was the model of U.S. foreign policy. Secure behind distance and power, the United States ought not be a typical insecure political power, but should use its strength to prevent the more extreme injustices in the world. 

Evolution of Indian Military Concepts

Date : 24 Aug , 2013

The Indian Army expanded manifold in World War II to meet the ever-increasing demands of the British contribution to the overall Allied strategy, particularly in West Asia and Southeast Asia.

Drawing on our reservoir of manpower, newly raised units and formations were hurled into battle after short, but nonetheless concentrated, training. The Indian Army of that period was essentially British-led and manpower-oriented. The mechanisation that crept into it was only incidental. Its growth was unbalanced, especially in terms of supporting arms and air complement. On the credit side, Indian troops got an opportunity to fight first-class armies in different theatres of war from the Western Desert to Italy and from the mountains of Eritrea to the jungles of Burma, shoulder to shoulder with European and US troops. And battle is the best schooling for war.

Basically, the underlying idea was to trade space for time initially to allow for equipping and training the formations, and to achieve the requisite buildup so as to turn the tide after completing preparations. It was easy for them as the traded space was in alien lands.

The tactical concepts of the Indian Army of World War II conformed to the British requirements of the time. Basically, the underlying idea was to trade space for time initially to allow for equipping and training the formations, and to achieve the requisite buildup so as to turn the tide after completing preparations. It was easy for them as the traded space was in alien lands. In battle, the British believed in a step-by-step deliberate approach with local superiority of at least three to one.

The chief protagonist of this concept was Field Marshal Montgomery, but he represented the dictates of the military potential of the wartime armies. The citizen armies were not trained in war manoeuvres and after a series of defeats were hungry for success to tone up national morale. Defeat in battle was unthinkable at that juncture and Montgomery ensured success by creating deliberate and complete superiority over the adversary at a chosen point, and this involved protracted preparations. Surprise and audacity in battle were ignored both in planning and execution, and success solely relied upon the superiority of the blow dealt to the enemy. This was made possible by the free flow of US military aid and the British war industries catching up with defence production. At the end of the war, the bloated Indian Army came home for demobilisation and reduction to suit peacetime colonial requirements in the region.

Demobilisation had not been completed when the transfer of power was effected. Nehru’s interim government took office, but before it could take stock of future requirements it got entangled in internal dissensions which eventually led to the partition of the country. The government, wedded to the Gandhian philosophy of non-violence, did not take long to spell out the trend of its foreign policy. Nehru made it known that India intended to live in peace with its neighbours and firmly believed that political issues should not be settled by military means. He advocated mutual understanding and cooperation, and preferred negotiations as the main instrument of settlement. This resulted in some misgivings among the rank and file that the army would be drastically cut and that its role would be mainly ceremonial.

Why India should have a declared space policy

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan
03 September 2013

A low-intensity debate has been taking place in India as to whether India should have a declared space policy or not. The general consensus appears to be that there is no need. But there are several arguments to make in favour of outlining a policy in the open. In today's world, the advantages of a declared policy far outweigh the disadvantages. A declared policy calls for a clear understanding of how it should be tailored, what it should contain and what should be left out.

First, open policy statements and declared policies have remained the best means to assuage fears, build confidence and avoid ambiguities. These are important measures for building transparency and reducing tensions in regional and global contexts. Since the Asian context is characterized by growing competition and rivalry and the potential for conflict, even relative openness and transparency will go a long way in diluting the levels of regional insecurities.

A declared space policy would be an effective tool of communication for both internal and external audiences. For both audiences, it will set limits as well as open up opportunities as the number of states engaged in space exploration and utilization continue to grow. The value of communication through such an exercise, with both internal and external communities, is important. However, it is worth remembering that as a policy is prepared and articulated, while an internal audience is important, the policy will also send a message to external audiences. As such, it must be written in a manner that does not aggravate insecurities. Fail to do that, and external audiences could be left with the wrong impressions about India's space program and policy, further raising the risk of misperception and miscommunication. How external audiences will read the policy statement and what they perceive about India's needs, objectives and plans for the future, therefore, must be an important consideration as New Delhi readies a space policy document.

Second, India should have a clear picture of its long-term objectives and these should become guiding factors for a good space policy. The long-term objectives should consider both where India wants to be in a 25-year framework, and the perspective of outer space itself. A long-term vision should be followed by prioritization of important capabilities (political, diplomatic, military and economic) and partnerships that will help India reach its destination. This should translate into national security strategies articulated by the political leadership and then national military strategies derived from the national security strategy.

The second set of objectives will come from a debate on what sort of future India wants to achieve in space and accordingly what sort of behavior will be counter-productive to achieving those goals. Once there is clarity on these issues, India should adjust the orientation of its own space program and its priorities while working towards a favorable framework that would allow it to meet those goals. India should also steer its efforts in developing rules that would affect and curtail certain space programs and activities that may potentially be destabilizing and irresponsible. In addition to creating a framework that will protect its own interests, the political impact of this exercise is important. India should also strengthen its ability to maneuver at the global high table by prioritizing and fostering partnerships with countries that might share India's vision in space.

Third, India should articulate its interests and policies in the broader context of the region and beyond, rather than talk about its interests in a narrow sense. This will have multiple benefits. For one, India's policy articulation will be perceived as less threatening to the region. There are apprehensions particularly in the immediate neighborhood because of India's dominant presence in South Asia. India's growing capabilities in the space arena as in several other areas has the potential to heighten insecurities among these smaller neighbors. It will benefit India in the longer run if it were to showcase its interests and benefits in the regional context. Moreover, India should be able to cultivate regional interests that are akin to its own interests. It should be articulated in a manner wherein the region is able to transpose its interests and ideals with that of India's. India should be able to convey to the region as to how such a policy might be in the interests of regional peace and stability.

Fourth, the domestic debate on India's space policy has tended to highlight the utility of being ambiguous about policy. However, it should be understood that ambiguity has its limits. Bringing clarity to India's policy and program will have multiple benefits. Despite the fact that India's space program has been predominantly civilian in focus, the rising trend towards militarization in the region and beyond is influencing India's orientation as well. Categorization of India's space program into civilian and military components followed by clear-cut departmental structures would allow for greater focus, clarity and better financial outlays. Currently, institutional and budgetary resources are stretched across different programs. Devising a military space program will cater for better budget allocations as well as dedicated human resources.

Ship-building policy needs change

Manoj Joshi
03 September 2013

Last week, Chinese supreme leader Xi Jinping made a highly publicised visit to the sole Chinese aircraft carrier, Liaoning. Never mind that the carrier is still five years from achieving full operational capability, but it has already emerged as a potent symbol of China's naval might. Xi's visit was widely reported in the Chinese press and he has made it a point to visit military bases and facilities not only to deepen his ties with the PLA, but to send signals of resolve with regard to China defending its maritime claims relating to Japan and some ASEAN countries.

At the Liaoning, not only did Xi get a guard of honour on the deck of the ship, but he went below to chat with the sailors. Earlier, he went to a nearby naval training institute where he saw the aircraft that will form the key complement of the Liaoning carry out training exercises. The aircraft carrier will have a complement of 30 J-15 fighters, an aircraft developed by the Chinese broadly based on the Soviet Su-33 of the 1980s. The next day, Chinese Ministry of National Defence spokesman Yang Yujun said that though the Liaoning was China's first aircraft carrier, "there will surely be more in future". And anyone who has seen the manner in which China has handled its economic construction will not doubt that they will be with us soon.

In February, the PLA's main ship contractor, the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, revealed that its ministry of Science and Technology had begun funding two projects, including one for possible nuclear propulsion of a carrier. Last month pictures surfaced on the internet revealing a module at Shanghai's Changxing Island Shipyard which analysts said was a second Chinese carrier under construction. They said that the pictures showed the telltale profile of the inner hull of a carrier with a well-defined hangar and elevator cutout which appeared to be of a modified Liaoning design.

In contrast to the Chinese, the Japanese "carrier" Izumo which was launched on August 6 was projected as a helicopter carrying destroyer. But the ship with a large flight deck of 250 metres (a little bigger than that of our Viraat), which Japan says will be used for helicopters, has raised hackles in China. The Izumo does not have a ski jump or catapults to launch aircraft, but in future, it could easily embark the F-35C variant being developed for the US Navy.

The Chinese worry about the Japanese because despite their massive buildup and huge navy which is probably double the size of the Japanese, the latter still have areas of excellence, such as in undersea and anti-submarine warfare which could give the Chinese a run for their money. There can be little doubt that should it wish, Japan could quickly add muscle to its existing fleet and develop actual aircraft carriers. Its limitations are neither financial

The third major development was, of course, the launch of our carrier, Vikrant which is slightly smaller than the Chinese Liaoning. Of course, this is still years away from commissioning. But in the meantime India will induct the INS Vikramaditya (ex-Gorshkov) into its Navy later this year. This ship, again slightly smaller than the Liaoning, will be fully operational by next year considering the Indian Navy's long experience in aircraft carrier operations.

India has plans for building more carriers and there is already talk of a follow on to the Vikrant which would have 65,000 tons displacement bringing it into the class of American super-carriers. India, too, is contemplating the use of nuclear propulsion for the carrier.

What the Chinese are planning for is not clear. As of now they seem more focused on protecting their mainland against offensive American power. A secondary consideration is to protect their somewhat extravagant maritime claims. As for the Japanese, as an island country with a pacifist constitution, the main aim is to provide limited protection to Japanese sea lines of communications. As for India, it is the one with the big ambitions, which include its emerging as the dominant force in the Indian Ocean (not counting the real and only superpower of the day, the US).

A Battle for the Soul of India

Published on The National Interest (http://nationalinterest.org)
September 4, 2013

At first glance, there did not seem to be anything unique, or, voyeurism aside, even all that interesting about this past summer’s public quarrel between Indian economist and political philosopher Amartya Sen, a Nobel laureate who now teaches at Harvard, and his former Cambridge University classmate Jagdish Bhagwati, a Columbia University economist and law professor who has long been one of the most eloquent champions of globalization based largely on free trade as the surest, if not indeed the only sure, way for poor countries to become prosperous. As Henry Kissinger is said to have remarked, academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so low. Those who like their sarcasm gift-wrapped in erudition may enjoy reading about slagging matches between scholars, whether of the ‘witty fury’ type exemplified by the decades-long quarrel between the British historians A. J. P. Taylor and Hugh Trevor-Roper, or of the ‘titanic clash of narcissisms’ type that Edward Said and Bernard Lewis illustrated so indefatigably in their exchanges over Said’s ‘Orientalism.’ It is true that these and other such rivalries were partly grounded in political and even moral differences of real substance. But their effect on the politics and public policy of their time is usually pretty trivial, even if the disputants don’t usually see it that way.

Every once in a while, though, a bitter controversy erupts between scholars where, far from being small, the stakes in terms of public policies affecting the lives of huge numbers of people and the wealth or poverty of nations could scarcely be higher. Unsurprisingly, they usually involve economists (though Krugman v. Rogoff and Reinhart is not one of them!). The most important of these in the twentieth century was certainly John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek’s long-running debate over the question of whether significant state interventions in fiscal and employment policies, above all massive government spending, were what were needed, as Keynes thought, or, as Hayek believed, instead would either have no effect or even potentially prevent the economy from recovering from the Great Depression.

One of Keynes’ colleagues at Cambridge described it at the time a [3]s [3] “the method of the duello conducted in the manner of Kilkenny cats.” The recent Sen-Bhagwati debate had something of the same character, with one crucial difference: while Bhagwati can surely be said to have gone the Kilkenny cat route, apart from one letter to the Economist, Sen has not. Even there, Sen contented himself with saying [4] that “I have resisted responding to Mr. Bhagwati’s persistent and unilateral, attacks in the past,” before going on to say that Baghwati distorted the position they had taken in their recent book, An Uncertain Glory: India and Its Contradictions [5], when he charged that Sen and his collaborator, the Indian economist, Jean Dreze, had only been giving lip service to the importance of economic growth—the centrality of which Bhagwati and his collaborator and fellow Columbia University economist, Arvind Panagariya, had emphasized in their recent book, Why Growth Matters: How Economic Growth in India Has Reduced Poverty and the Lessons for Other Developing Countries [6].

Kishtwar Riots: The Beginning of Ethnic Cleansing?

Issue Net Edition | Date : 04 Sep , 2013

In just three weeks the Kishtwar riots have entered the penumbra of media attention. Before they fade from memory, certain points need to be made. These riots are a vivid reminder of expulsion of nearly four lac Pandits from the Valley. Resemblance is uncanny. The same Hurriyat leaders who had engineered the expulsion of Pandits from the Valley have been behind inciting the Kishtwar riots.

The Hurriyat has cleverly kept a few Hindus and Sikhs for window dressing to give their ‘freedom struggle’ a façade of secularism. These minorities are intended to be kept safe only till the ‘freedom’ is attained…

There were two prominent players involved in cleansing out Pandits from the Kashmir Valley. Syed Ali Shah Geelani was the Amir of Jamait-e-Islami which controlled the network of mosques in Srinagar. It was these mosques that broadcast the message 24 hours a day to terrorize the Pandits. The message as translated from Kashmiri was: “We do not want Pandits in Kashmir. We just want their women.” Its ominous import was unmistakable. Little wonder that Pandit families with young women were the first ones to run away. The other leader was Muhammad Yasin Malik who led his then underground group JKLF in carrying out selective target killing of prominent Pandits. This added to the terrorization and accelerated the exodus. The Hurriyat has cleverly kept a few Hindus and Sikhs for window dressing to give their ‘freedom struggle’ a façade of secularism. These minorities are intended to be kept safe only till the ‘freedom’ is attained and then they along with the Shia Muslims will meet the same fate as the Pandits. Kashmir Valley is envisaged to become a 100% Sunni fundamentalist State, another North Waziristan, whenever it suits Pakistan or its acolyte, the Hurriyat leaders.

The fact that the Hindus of erstwhile Doda District which includes Kishtwar did not meet the same fate is thanks only to one factor, the Village Defence Committees (VDC) that the threatened hamlets and villages formed. These were then armed and played a major role in preventing the exodus of Hinds from that district as also in keeping the Jammu province safe. No security force can provide protection to every family in isolated villages. VDCs did a commendable job in that role. They not only secured their villages, but also kept the ‘freedom struggle’ away from the Jammu province. That essentially kept the insurgency confined to the Kashmir Valley, despite Pakistan’s best efforts. Consequently, the VDC were the favourite target of the terrorists and their overground supporters and they lost many lives. Under pressure from what India calls separatists but essentially Pakistani agents, the politicians of the Valley have never been very sympathetic to the VDCs. Mufti Muhammad Saeed of PDP had in fact tried to disband them when he became the Chief Minister. .

Now the Hurriyat which had no presence south of the Valley, has made disbandment of VDCs a major issue in order, as it says, to remove the sense of insecurity among the Muslims of the area. That demand is obviously inspired by Pakistan whose every action since the beginning of this year points towards the revival of the ‘freedom Straggle’. The recent riots in Kishtwar have provided them a pretext to rake up the issue though no VDC had taken part in them. Being located in villages, VDCs were not even present in Kishtwar town. There was only one death by gunfire and the victim was one Arvind Kumar. Yet, the finger pointing at VDCs continues.

Once a terrorized population abandons their homes, their return is impossible, just as it happened in the case of Pandits.

Though the VDCs are the responsibility of the State Govt, the Army has a vital stake in them. No Army can provide protection to every house and hamlet in the sparsely populated mountainous region. Nor can the Army block all the routes of ingress through Pir Panjal into Jammu province and that province will become vulnerable. Pir Panjal range also has major infiltration routes from Pakistan.

If the VDCs are disarmed or their capabilities degraded in way, the entire mountain population of Jammu province will be at grave risk. They may have no choice but to escape to the suburbs of Jammu like Pandits did. That would add to the problem, that Pakistan deliberately tries to create by targeting the civil population along the LoC and even the international border. Once a terrorized population abandons their homes, their return is impossible, just as it happened in the case of Pandits. All the talk of rehabilitating them back in their ancestral homes in the Valley is either naïve or dishonest. The facts on the ground once created can seldom be changed. No debates in Parliament and long speeches in New Delhi will be able to undo the migration. Saving Kishtwar means saving Jammu province and saving Jammu province means saving India. And the VDCs are the key to doing so

Indian Men Have the Least Sex: Men’s Health Survey

By Jonathan DeHart
September 4, 2013

The September edition of Men’s Health India has published its annual sex survey, which gauges sexual attitudes and habits, was compiled from the responses of 57,796 respondents from 30 countries and bills itself as “by far the largest survey of its kind in the world.”

“Unlike so many other sex surveys, our poll is not information-heavy, and neither is it just about charting changing trends,” said Men’s Health India editorial director Jamal Shaikh. “We have tried to examine how men from different parts of the world are better than others in certain aspects of sex and relationships, and then tell you how to learn and improve.”

The results may raise some eyebrows—especially in India. For starters, Indian men are the least sexually active on average worldwide. They are sexually active less than once weekly and report having three partners in their lifetimes. Indian women reported having only two partners on average throughout their lives. By contrast, women from the U.K., U.S. and Australia reported a lifetime average of nine partners. Men from the Netherlands, Croatia and the U.K. scored high on various indicators included in the results.

The Telegraph notes that the magazine’s editor Bobby Varkey attributes this lack of libidinous activity to a lack of privacy in many boisterous “joint family” homes shared by parents and their adult siblings as well as the strong cultural taboo against premarital and extramarital sex. Varkey also drew a link between this relative dearth of sexual activity and the nation’s chronic problems with rape and violence against women.

Dr. Ranjana Kumari of the Centre for Social Research takes a different view, pointing to the fact that 95 percent of Indians are in arranged marriages and 50 percent of them are hitched by the age of 18. “Sexual access is very much there for men,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to generalize that India is a (sexually) frustrated culture. Rape isn’t about sex but about men who think they can control women and instill fear in them.”

Supporting the idea that the subcontinent may be less “frustrated” than perceived, the survey also had other surprises in store. The flipside of the lack of privacy is an unexpected willingness to take the occasional walk on the wild side. For one, according to Varkey, this explains why the sight of couples making out in public is apparently such a common sight. More surprising, the survey tells us that Indian women are “six times as likely as American women to have done the deed in a taxi. No surprises there!”

How has the West responded to ‘gassing’ in West Asia?

September 4, 2013

President Obama recently speaking from the White House said that Syria’s actions represented a “challenge to the world” as also to American national security. He added that he had not made a final decision and was considering only a “limited, narrow act.” Obama emphasized: “We’re not considering any open ended commitment. We’re not considering any boots on the ground approach.” He added, however, that the US has an obligation “as a leader in the world” to hold countries accountable if they violate “international norms.”

At the State Department, the Secretary of State, John Kerry, argued in even more passionate language that the Syrian regime had committed a “crime against humanity” that could not go unpunished. Kerry further added “history will judge us extraordinarily harshly if we turn a blind eye,” adding that there were 426 children among the dead. And finally the punch-line: “This is the indiscriminate, inconceivable horror of chemical weapons. This is what Assad did to his own people.”

What Kerry said was enough to warm the hearts of every human rights campaigner. But like most self-righteous politicians there seems to be a convenient gloss over history; even though military action does appear imminent.

Actually the first to use chemical weapons [gas] in the Middle-East were the British. Soon after the First World War when the British created the state of Iraq consisting of the three former Turkish Vilayats [provinces] of Basra, Baghdad and Mosul; the southern Kurds much to their dislike had been added to the new state of Iraq and in protest broke out in open rebellion. Faced with the prospects of a prolonged conflict, with added financial costs and loss of British life; the British decided that the ‘best method’ for putting down the revolt was to use gas. As the then Colonial Secretary, Sir Winston Churchill had remarked, “I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas.” The then RAF Chief Sir Hugh Trenchard in a report to the British Cabinet admitted that this was a “cheaper form of control.” Even the redoubtable Lawrence of Arabia wrote to the London Observer that “it is odd we do not use poison gas on these occasions.” The poor Kurds were the first to receive the ‘gas’ treatment and as history would prove not the last time!

Let us move ahead in time and come to Saddam Hussein. Iranian official history records that Iraq first used chemical weapons against its soldiers on January 13, 1981. It is reported that between December 28, 1980 and March 20, 1984 Iranians list 63 separate gas attacks by the Iraqis. There is no doubt that the US was acutely aware of what was going on. In a Memorandum on November 1, 1983, officials of the State Department warned the then Secretary of State George Shultz that they had information that the Iraqis were using chemical weapons on an ‘almost daily’ basis. Equally blunt was the warning that Iraq had acquired chemical weapons capability from Western firms, including possibly from a US subsidiary. The US was also aware that chemical weapons were being used against ‘Kurdish insurgents’. At the same time the US, according to a media report, continued to provide Iraq with critical battle planning assistance and satellite data on Iranian military movements, knowing very well that Iraq was using chemical weapons against Iran as also Kurdish insurgents.

No concrete action was taken. Saddam was a friend fighting to ‘weaken the ambitions of Iran’ and, therefore, President Reagan’s Special Representative the redoubtable Donald Rumsfeld, who was to gain much fame later in 2003 as Saddam’s nemesis, turned up in Baghdad [20 December 1983] with a letter from the President which the State Department later was to describe as ‘a milestone’ in US-Iraqi relations. To be fair, however, on March 6, 1984 the State Department announced that, based on available evidence, it ‘concluded’ that Iraq had used lethal chemical weapons in the fighting with Iran [emphasis added].

However the Iranians were one step ahead, for by then Iran had even produced photographs, in every gory detail, of the casualties caused by chemical weapons. By March 1984, Iran had sent about 50 soldiers suffering from chemical weapons attacks to hospitals in some Europeans countries in order to graphically display the results of Iraqi chemical weapons use and to arouse public opinion around the world. After Iran’s repeated request the UN sent an investigation team to the region beginning March 1984. In its report of March 26, 1984, the UN team confirmed the use of chemical weapons by Iraq. But the UN Security Council apart from routine admonitions took no action against Iraq.The then Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati could only bitterly complain, “…this irresponsible and indifferent attitude of the Security Council has indeed encouraged and emboldened Iraq….What is the effect of these crimes on the one hand and the silence of the UN on the other?”

Count on Congress

The Logic of Handing Syria Over to the Lawmakers
September 3, 2013

Has Washington turned upside down? Early morning joggers run next to the Reflecting Pool in Washington, March 15, 2013. (Gary Cameron / Foreign Affairs)

The recent decision by U.S. President Barack Obama to seek congressional support for military action in Syria caught many, including some of his own advisers, off guard. The decision seemed not merely to violate to his immediate interests but also to contravene his own past practices. Rather than aberrational, however, the move reveals some longstanding truths about how the United States goes to war.

The first concerns Congress’ continuing relevance in military decision-making. Many analysts have long written it off. And to a certain extent, they have been right to do so. When it comes to foreign policy generally, and military action in particular, the president enjoys extraordinary power: power to unilaterally advance his own agenda; power with the public, which looks to him to chart foreign policy; and informational power, which allows the president to structure the terms and direction of any accompanying debate. Congress, meanwhile, can seem hamstrung and all but useless. The multiple veto points, partisan polarization, and pervasive gridlock predictably impede and distort even the most sober efforts to address real-world challenges.

Even so, in the domestic politics of war-making, it would be unwise to count Congress out. Obama did not have to seek congressional approval for military action in retaliation for the Assad regime’s recent alleged use of chemical weapons against his own people. But he did. And that was a prudent choice.

The advantages of consent will mostly matter in retrospect, not in the run-up to war. That is because, if Congress approves the military action, it cannot as easily criticize its effects. Just ask Secretary of State John Kerry, who stumbled through the 2004 campaign for the presidency trying to explain why he was for the Iraq War before he was against it. In the aftermath of a military action, members of Congress can use hearings, investigations, floor debates, and media appearances to make a case that a military venture failed outright or created new problems. In extreme cases, as occurred in the latter stages of the Vietnam War, all this may lay the groundwork for legislative action against the president. But even in the absence of a formal rebuke, congressional criticisms can turn the public against the president and his party, signal to U.S. allies and enemies a lack of resolve for continued military action, and upend congressional action on other aspects of the president’s policy agenda.

Seeking congressional approval at this late hour of his presidency is not going to remake Obama’s own record.


The idea that Congress matters is simple enough. How it matters, though, is less understood. When it comes to military action, Congress acts mostly as a restraint. Not since the Spanish-American War, when substantial factions in Congress all but forced President William McKinley to send U.S. troops into Cuba, has Congress impelled a military deployment when the president preferred peace. Instead, congressional influence nearly always manifests in the negative, slowing the pace of some military actions and convincing presidents to altogether abandon the plans for others.

Arm and Shame **

Published: September 3, 2013 

The Obama team has clearly struggled with its Syria policy, but, in fairness, this is a wickedly complex problem. We need a policy response that simultaneously deters another Syrian poison gas attack, doesn’t embroil America in the Syrian civil war and also doesn’t lead to the sudden collapse of the Syrian state with all its chemical weapons, or, worse, a strengthening of the Syrian regime and its allies Hezbollah and Iran. However, I think President Obama has the wrong strategy for threading that needle. He’s seeking Congressional support for a one-time “shock and awe” missile attack against Syrian military targets. The right strategy is “arm and shame.”
Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman 

Let me explain. Count me with the activists on the question of whether the United States should respond to the Syrian regime’s murder of some 1,400 civilians, more than 400 of them children, with poison gas. If there is no global response to this breaching of a universal taboo on using poison gas, the world will be a much more dangerous place. And only America can spearhead a credible response: Russia and China have rendered the United Nations Security Council meaningless; Europe is a military museum; the Arab League is worthless; all others are spectators. We are out front — alone. We may not want to be, but here we are. So we must lead.

But upholding this norm in the context of the Syrian civil war is not a simple matter. Start with the fact that probably the only way to produce a unified, pluralistic, multisectarian Syria is for an international army to come in, take over the country, monopolize all weaponry and referee a long transition to consensual rule. Syrians can’t forge that on their own now. But such a force is not possible in this century, and Iraq demonstrated how hard it is for even that option to work.

Thus, the most likely option for Syria is some kind of de facto partition, with the pro-Assad, predominantly Alawite Syrians controlling one region and the Sunni and Kurdish Syrians controlling the rest. But the Sunnis are themselves divided between the pro-Western, secular Free Syrian Army, which we’d like to see win, and the pro-Islamist and pro-Al Qaeda jihadist groups, like the Nusra Front, which we’d like to see lose.

That’s why I think the best response to the use of poison gas by President Bashar al-Assad is not a cruise missile attack on Assad’s forces, but an increase in the training and arming of the Free Syrian Army — including the antitank and antiaircraft weapons it’s long sought. This has three virtues: 1) Better arming responsible rebels units, and they do exist, can really hurt the Assad regime in a sustained way — that is the whole point of deterrence — without exposing America to global opprobrium for bombing Syria; 2) Better arming the rebels actually enables them to protect themselves more effectively from this regime; 3) Better arming the rebels might increase the influence on the ground of the more moderate opposition groups over the jihadist ones — and eventually may put more pressure on Assad, or his allies, to negotiate a political solution.

By contrast, just limited bombing of Syria from the air makes us look weak at best, even if we hit targets. And if we kill lots of Syrians, it enables Assad to divert attention from the 1,400 he has gassed to death to those we harmed. Also, who knows what else our bombing of Syria could set in motion. (Would Iran decide it must now rush through a nuclear bomb?)

Syria and the Dangers of American Power

Published on The National Interest (http://nationalinterest.org)
September 4, 2013

Now that President Obama has asked Congress to vote on attacking Syria, the debate over intervention is heating up in Washington. A growing faction in the Republican Party, led by Tea Party figures such as Rand Paul, is pouring cold water on the notion that America should become entangled in another Middle East conflict. But another group of liberal hawks and neocons is taking a different approach. Manifesting the triumphalism that has marked American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet empire, they maintain that America, and only America, has the power and will to enforce international humanitarian norms in Syria.

And so in the past few days, we have witnessed the belligerent statements of high-level U.S. politicians—from leading senators such as John McCain to Secretary of State John Kerry—that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons, that it has crossed a red line, and that this act cannot go unpunished. It is America’s obligation, we are told, to show the world that such behavior cannot be tolerated, or else no one would take America seriously. But what is the actual American record of humanitarian intervention? Has it been humane? Or has it inadvertently caused even more chaos in the name of preventing it?

Consider Iraq. After the Bush and Blair governments failed to discover any WMDs, the intervention was justified by spreading democracy in the Islamic world and the supposed liberation of the Iraqi people from the tyranny of the “bloody dictator Saddam Hussein,” and the solidifying of democracy in that country. The results: a few hundred thousand dead Iraqis, millions displaced within Iraqi territory, thousands killed and tens of thousands of American and allied soldiers injured. Today, the country lies in ruins, and has de facto split into three parts—Shia, Sunni and Kurdish. Daily terrorist attacks rock the country and claim numerous lives. In view of all this, the Obama administration claimed that the United States had fulfilled its mission in Iraq and was time to leave it to its own fate.

The second such humanitarian intervention, supposedly led to save lives from an evil dictator, was Libya. UN data ranked this country, up until the intervention, as one of the five developing most rapidly and successfully. As a direct result of the U.S. and allied intervention, it is now reduced to rubble; its leader murdered by desperadoes. Lest we forget, the weapons delivered to the rebels found their way into the hands of radical Islamists in the wider Middle East, including Syria. Once again, Americans supposedly finished their humanitarian mission and the country is in shambles.

The Revolution That Wasn’t

Hugh Roberts

Western opinion has had difficulty working out what to think, or at any rate what to say, about Egypt. It now seems that the pedlars of hallucinations have been cowed and it is no longer fashionable to describe the events of 3 July in Cairo as a ‘second revolution’. But to describe them as a counter-revolution, while indisputably more accurate, presupposes that there was a revolution in the first place. The bulk of Western media commentary seems still to be wedded to this notion. That what the media called ‘the Arab spring’ was a succession of revolutions became orthodoxy very quickly. Egypt was indispensable to the idea of an ‘Arab spring’ and so it had to have had a revolution too.

In part this was wishful thinking. The daring young Egyptians who organised the remarkable demonstrations in Tahrir Square and elsewhere from 25 January 2011 onwards were certainly revolutionary in spirit and when their demand that Mubarak should go was granted they couldn’t help thinking that what they had achieved was a revolution. They were of course encouraged in this by the enthusiastic reporting of the Western media, disoriented as they have been since the rise of the ‘journalism of attachment’ during the Balkan wars. But it was also the result of the influence of accomplished fact. The events in Tunisia were certainly a revolution. The role of the Tunisian army was a very modest one, essentially that of refusing, in its moment of truth, to slaughter the demonstrators to save Ben Ali. The role of the Egyptian army in February 2011, however, was not modest; it only seemed to be. Where the Tunisian army showed itself to be a genuinely apolitical servant of the state, the Egyptian army struck an attitude of neutrality and even sympathy for the demonstrators that masked its commanders’ real outlook. That was good enough for reporters who couldn’t tell the difference between appearances and realities. In outward form, both countries had had revolutions, and practically identical ones at that. So the ‘Arab spring’ was up and running and the question was simply: ‘Who’s next?’

To think about the recent appalling turn of events in Egypt in terms of an original ‘revolution’, with 25 January 2011 as the start of Year One, is to amputate the drama of the last two and half years from its historical roots, the story of what the Egyptian state became during the later stages of Hosni Mubarak’s protracted presidency. This is not a simple affair. It is the story of what the Mubarak presidency signified for the Egyptian state, for its various components, especially the army, and for its form of government, but also of what it signified for the various types of opposition his rule provoked or allowed. All this combined in the gathering crisis of the state itself, a crisis that was building long before the revolution in Tunisia got underway.

Mubarak ruled Egypt for more than thirty years, longer than Nasser (18 years) and Sadat (11 years) put together, and he made clear his intention to remain in office until he died, while simultaneously giving the impression that he intended his son Gamal to succeed him. His reign was thus an instance of both the wider phenomena that Roger Owen discusses in exemplary depth: the rise of ‘presidents for life’ in the Arab world and these leaders’ tendency – or at least the temptation – to try to secure the presidency for their families by instituting a dynastic succession. Mubarak concentrated power in the presidency to an arguably unprecedented degree, building on what Sadat had done but taking it much further.

In his detailed survey of the Arab ‘republics’, Owen distinguishes between two main categories, states ‘where the central government was relatively strong’ (Tunisia, Syria, Egypt and Algeria) and those where it was weak (Sudan, Libya and Yemen). He thus treats Egypt and Syria as substantially similar. Focusing on the Egypt-Syria comparison, Joshua Stacher offers a different view, arguing that the two regimes were dissimilar in several critical ways: the Egyptian power structure was highly centralised while the Syrian was and is comparatively decentralised, with Bashar al-Assad wielding nothing like the commanding authority over his regime that Mubarak had. Owen’s perspective could be said to allow for such variation; in both cases – as also in Tunisia and Algeria – central government has clearly been far stronger in relation to society than in Libya, Sudan or Yemen, and Owen himself illustrates how, within each of his categories, there are various permutations. But because the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa have primarily been focused on and seen elsewhere in terms of the toppling of autocrats, and neither Syria nor Algeria’s autocrats have so far been toppled, the particular configurations have mattered a great deal. Stacher persuasively argues that the oligarchical rather than autocratic configuration in Syria has meant both that the regime has found it difficult to agree on a reformist course and that its various elements were bound to stick with Bashar against all comers, and so Western expectations that it would unravel under pressure were misplaced. How then does the other part of his thesis, that Egypt’s power structure has been extremely centralised, help explain the course of events there?

More Trouble in the Eastern Mediterranean

U.S. Intervention or Not, the Sea is Already Boiling
September 3, 2013

The USS Barry, seen here firing a Tomahawk Missile during Operation Odyssey Dawn, has moved into position off the coast of Syria. (U.S. Navy)

So far, public debate about the intervention in Syria has centered on the immediate scope and aims of any U.S.-led military operation, and whether the U.S. Congress should be involved. But no matter how the possible intervention and its aftermath play out, one thing is certain: the eastern Mediterranean -- where exploratory drilling has unearthed vast reserves of natural gas, and where competition over the rights to tap those resources is already fierce -- will become less stable.

For now, the least bad outcome seems to be a prolonged stalemate. And that is the most likely outcome, at least in the short term, if the United States indeed opts for limited military strikes. By definition, punitive cruise missile strikes seek to change an opponent's strategy without necessarily depleting that opponent’s capabilities. By raising the costs of bad behavior -- say, by damaging airstrips and bombing the presidential palace or other targets of value to the regime -- coercive air power is designed to make Assad’s generals think twice before contemplating indiscriminate tactics in the future. They would do little to end the war.

The regional implications of such a stalemate are not difficult to imagine, as they represent a continuation of the current state of affairs. With an average of over 100 reported fatalities per day, Syria would remain the most violent place on Earth. Sectarian fighting would continue to spill over into parts of Lebanon and Iraq. Refugee flows to Turkey and Jordan would continue. And Hezbollah and the al Qaeda–affiliated al-Nusra Front would be preoccupied with fighting each other rather than Israel or the United States, although they would gain valuable battlefield experience in the process.

The human costs of this scenario are staggering. Still, although a Syrian stalemate would not be helpful for economies in the region, it would likely be the least disruptive prospect for gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Exploratory drilling began off the coast of Cyprus in 2011 -- the year in which hostilities erupted in Syria. Since then, energy companies have adapted to a persistently unstable operating environment, and have been moving ahead with major projects. This June, the Greek Cypriot government signed a memorandum of understanding with two Israeli drilling companies on the construction of a liquefied natural gas terminal in Cyprus, with a final deal expected in December. As of August, Itera, a Russian gas pipeline company, has been in talks with Cyprus about supplying the country with natural gas on an interim basis before these offshore projects reach fruition.

As morally satisfying as it might be, a rebel victory may be the most dangerous outcome of all for the eastern Mediterranean. Such a turn of events would open a security vacuum in a resource-rich and already volatile regio

From Israel’s standpoint, moreover, a Syria at war with itself is less likely to put its muscle behind Lebanese claims -- and Hezbollah’s threats -- on gas reserves in Israel’s exclusive economic zone. And from the standpoint of Nicosia, a Turkey preoccupied with fallout from the Syrian War is less likely to aggressively challenge the legitimacy of exploration in disputed Cypriot waters. In many ways, then, a stalemate in Syria has allowed regional energy projects to move ahead by distracting the actors most likely to oppose them.

Omens of a Hollow Military

Published on The National Interest (http://nationalinterest.org)
September 4, 2013
Pull pin. Toss in.

That's how it works with hand grenades. And, sometimes, in political warfare too.

That certainly proved the case last year with a contentious report concerning the future of the armed forces from the usually non-controversial Congressional Research Service [3] (CRS). Now, a year later, we can declare the controversy dead—but the issue the report surfaced still hasn't been answered.

Turns out, Congress is going to need something better than CRS to guide its way forward.

The Congressional Controversy Service

In the winter of 2012, when Congress returned to Capitol Hill, it struggled to make sense of the almost half-trillion dollars in cuts to the armed forces budget instituted by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. In addition, President Obama planned further cuts in the top line of the defense budget as his preferred method of reining in federal spending. On top of that was the Budget Control Act of 2011 [4], which required sequestering nearly another half-trillion dollars in military funding.

On the one hand, the administration was eager to cash in a “peace dividend.” After all, it was winding down the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns as well as the ground war against Al Qaeda. Further, Obama promised better relations with China and Russia and a more settled Middle East. Plus, the administration’s strategic-guidance directive described how it would pare back on missions and priorities so the military could do more with less. Finally, the Pentagon promised a boatload of efficiencies and reforms. All these initiatives suggested the U.S. could make do with smaller armed forces.

On the other hand, the Pentagon had given Congress scant insight into how it would handle sequester. The White House had offered no real solution for how it would address the "procurement holiday" that extended back to the early 1990s, leaving the military with a long wish list for new ships, planes and vehicles to replace their aging fleets. The administration also was pretty hazy about how it would handle the cost of resetting the armed forces after a decade of war. Nor did the administration have a good answer for what it would do if the world proved less peaceful than Obama predicted.

Whither the state of the American military was an open question. Would the armed forces go hollow—lacking sufficient resources to field trained and ready forces, conduct current missions, and prepare for the future?

In the midst of this uncertainty, out came “A Historical Perspective on ‘Hollow Forces’ [5]," a report from the normally cautious Congressional Research Service. The report confidently concluded that it was unlikely the U.S. military would go hollow as it did in the 1970s after the Vietnam War.

The Gulf Military Balance Volume III: The Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula

Sep 3, 2013

The US faces major challenges in dealing with Iran, the threat of terrorism, and the tide of political instability in the Middle East. Two previous studies by the Burke Chair have examined the military threat from Iran in detail. These studies have just been updated into Tenth Editions after visits to the Gulf and discussions with US and European experts:

The two studies are:
US and Iranian Strategic Competition: The Conventional and Asymmetric Dimensions - This study looks at Iran’s Military forces in detail, and the balance of forces in the Gulf Region.
US and Iranian Strategic Competition: The Missile and Nuclear Dimensions - This study looks at Iran’s Missile and Nuclear forces.

The Burke Chair is now issuing an updated version of the third study in this series. The report is entitled The Gulf Military Balance Volume III: The Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula. It is available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/files/publication/130903_Iran_Gulf_Mil_Bal_III_AHC.pdf.

The report examines US security cooperation with each Gulf state, the role of US military forces in the Gulf region, and development in US strategy and efforts to create strategic partnerships with the Southern Gulf states. It examines the growing US security partnership with Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE -- and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). It analyzes the steady growth in this partnership that has led to over $64 billion in new US arms transfer agreements during 2008-2011.

This report also provides a country-by-country analysis of the dynamics of Arab Gulf national security policy, military forces, military expenditures, and arms transfers; and the role and capability of the Gulf Cooperation Council. It addresses the threat posed by Iran, the role of Jordan and Iraq on the Gulf’s western flank, and the role of Yemen in shaping Saudi and Omani security.

It examines the strengths and weaknesses of the security cooperation between the Southern Gulf states, and their relative level of political, social, and economic stability. The study focuses on the need for enhanced unity and security cooperation between the individual Gulf states. It finds that such progress is critical if they are to provide effective deterrence and defense against Iran, improve their counterterrorism capabilities, and enhance other aspects of their internal security.

The study includes numerous charts and tables on Gulf military forces, military spending, and arms transfers, and descriptions of US forces in the Gulf region.

The Human cost of the Syrian Civil War

Sep 3, 2013

If the U.S. takes action in Syria, it should not be on the basis of an abstract principle based on an arbitrary red line tied to the use of chemical weapons. The real level of suffering is vastly higher than the number of dead from chemical weapons would indicate, and any effort to use force – to create some kind of viable end state – must take that into account.

The Limited But Uncertain Lethality of Chemical Weapons

There still is no clear picture of the level of casualties that came out of the Syrian use of chemical weapons on August 21st, and there are no estimates at all of the total impact of the use of chemical weapons during the civil war. Media sources are reporting something on the order of 1,400 dead, and avoid estimating the number of wounded or those who are recovering with any lasting side effects.

There is no agreement among intelligence or official estimates. The British Joint Intelligence committee issued an intelligence report referring to “at least 350 fatalities.” Secretary Kerry seems to have been sandbagged into using an absurdly over-precise number like 1,429 dead (of which an equally precise 426 were children). Put simply, there is no way in hell the U.S. intelligence community could credibly have made an estimate this exact.

It is unclear, however, that these figures really had an intelligence source. Some sources indicate they may have actually come from a Syrian source called the Local Coordination Committees (LCC) which, at the time, did not agree with other Syrian opposition sources like the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which some feel has a reputation for giving exaggerated estimates – neatly repeating the kinds of mistakes in the misleading data on Iraq given to Colin Powell a decade ago. President Obama was then forced to round off the number at “well over 1,000 people” without any explanation.

There is no estimate at all of those affected with short-term symptoms or who may have long term effects. The number is probably much larger than the number killed, but it is unlikely there will ever be an agreed-upon figure; the examination of the impact of Iraqi use of chemical weapons in the Kurdish town of Halabja never produced a credible estimate of the long-term effects of Saddam Hussein’s use of poison gas because the estimate became so politicized that it was impossible to distinguish the exaggerations from the facts. Many of the reported symptoms also create questions about the purity of any Sarin used in Syria, the lethality of its distribution in any given area and whether some other agent may have been present.

Moreover, if relatively pure nerve gas of any kind was used, most data on its effects indicate it tends to either kill quickly or produce only temporary effects. People who talk about the “horror” of chemical weapons go back to different weapons used in World War I that had more lingering effects, and do not seem to have any idea of the impact of artillery in producing the maimed and disabled or the suffering a major body wound with a bullet, shell fragment, grenade, mine, IED, or serious burn can produce. War is not surgery, it is butchery, and butchery that often leaves the victim alive.

Is America now becoming an international outlaw?

Sep 3, 2013

THE HAGUE – A week has proven to be a long time in international politics. On Aug. 26, arriving in Europe, NATO military strikes on Syria seemed both inevitable and imminent to punish it for alleged chemical weapons use on Aug. 21. On Thursday, the British Parliament rejected, by a 285-272 vote, the government motion that would have paved the way for British participation. Prime Minister David Cameron said he would respect the vote. By Friday, the United States was looking decidedly lonely and exposed in its hard-line stance that military attacks were still necessary and could be launched without U.N. sanction.

When Barack Obama succeeded George W. Bush as U.S. president, the world, sick of the latter’s triumphalist, in-your-face unilateralism, heaved a collective sigh of relief. How ironic then that Obama risks making the U.S. the biggest international outlaw of our times.

Consider four examples. The intensified use of drones to kill foreign-based enemies has been described in a joint study by Stanford and New York University law schools — two of the world’s leading law faculties — as violating international law, international humanitarian law, international human rights law and possibly also U.S. law. The creation of an uber surveillance state that spies massively and routinely on millions of Americans and foreigners has stirred an angry backlash. The refusal to prosecute the torturers and their legal enablers from the Bush regime, while pursuing, prosecuting and persecuting whistleblowers of government malfeasance, shows a strange perversion of priorities in the land of the free and brave.

Then there is the gathering Syria crisis so eerily reminiscent of Iraq in 2003 that the reprise seems scarcely credible. Unlike Iraq a decade ago, there actually is a brutal civil war going on in which 100,000 people have been killed, including soldiers, militants and civilians. That chemical weapons were used seems undeniable. But we do not know which chemical agents were used, what the casualties were and, most critically, who used them.

Elements on both sides are callous enough to use chemical weapons on innocent civilians. Western powers insist they have proof of regime culpability. After the Colin Powell theater of 2003, that will not convince a skeptical Western and international public. They will demand hard evidence. As things stand, strategic logic suggests strongly that the regime had everything to lose and the rebels much to gain by using chemical weapons and pointing the finger of criminality at Syrian President Bashar Assad. But circumstantial evidence points powerfully to regime culpability: the scale of use, the types of rockets used to deliver them, the direction from which they were fired, etc.

Fortuitously, there is an expert U.N. inspection team in country that should be given the mandate and time to forensically establish the facts and attribute guilt. The U.N. Security Council would be as criminally wrong not to mandate them as to authorize military reprisal before they have reported.

Military action without U.N. authorization would violate international law. No foreign country has been attacked by Syria. Other than self-defense against armed external attack, only U.N. authorization provides legal cover for military strikes. The international community cannot be collapsed into the FUKUS (France, U.K. and U.S.) coalition of the willing.

The Kosovo precedent from 1999 is no help. Contrary to the dominant NATO view, majority world opinion is that at best, that operation was illegal but legitimate in the circumstances; at worst, it was both illegal and illegitimate. This despite the fact that NATO had a U.N.-endorsed partial enforcement role in the Balkans for several years before the 1999 intervention, and that the Balkans is on Europe’s very borders.

Iraq in 2003 is the more relevant comparison, including a U.N. team that needs more time to complete its job on the ground.