14 August 2014

Can the U.S. Afford Another War

Aug 13, 2014 
Bulent Gultekin and Neta Crawford on the cost of war

Few disagree that the U.S. as a superpower is fulfilling its responsibility in air strikes targeting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and airdropping food aid to stranded Yazidi Iraqis persecuted by the group. But some are questioning the overall human, political and social costs of such wars and the resources it takes away from the government, especially in job creation back home.

Wharton finance professor Bulent Gultekin and Boston University professor of political science Neta Crawford discussed the wisdom of the latest U.S. moves in Iraq on the Knowledge@Wharton show on Wharton Business Radio on SiriusXM channel 111. Gultekin said the U.S. must choose its battles wisely and called for an international consensus on such actions, while Crawford highlighted the cost impact of wars, especially in job creation, among other aspects. (Listen to the podcast at the top of this page.)

The response from the international community has been mixed to the U.S. actions. The United Kingdom has decided to join forces and send ground attack aircraft for reconnaissance missions, but it has not extended that to conducting air attacks. Australia will send food aid to the Yazidis, and Prime Minister Tony Abbott has not ruled out sending ground forces to northern Iraq, according to The Australian newspaper. U.S. military aircraft have so far delivered more than 85,000 meals and 20,000 gallons of drinking water to the Yazidis, according to a press release by the U.S. Central Command. On Tuesday, the U.S. sent an additional 130 troops to Iraq to assess the scope of the crisis.

“As a large economy and the leader of the Western world, the U.S. does have responsibilities — that comes with the territory,” Gultekin noted during his radio interview. At the same time, he argued that the U.S. erred in attacking Iraq in the first place in 2003. It botched that endeavor by not building sufficient international consensus to back its actions that eventually led to Iraq becoming “a failed state,” Gultekin added.


Thursday, 14 August 2014 | Claude Arpi |


Over one million Indians fought on different European fronts during World War I. A 100 years later, their contribution is being recognised by some foreign Governments. In India, they are a forgotten lot

Decoration season is in full bloom. The Indian media is distributing Bharat Ratnas to political personalities, though Government sources say that there is no move yet to confer the country’s highest civilian honour before the next Republic Day. Many important political names have been doing the rounds in the buzzing capital of India. Instead of politicising Indian decorations, the media should look at India’s participation in World War I, whose centenary is celebrated this year. It is far more inspiring.

The ‘Great War’ (I have never understood how a war which left millions of dead can be ‘great’) officially started on August 3, 1914, the day Germany declared war on France. More than 1,30,000 Indian troops, including the Sikhs and Gorkhas regiments, fought in France and Belgium during the bloody conflict in which more than nine million people died.

Can you imagine that a quarter of the Indian contingent never returned to their native Provinces? It is said that during the battle of Neuve-Chapelle in France in March 1915, the Sikh regiments lost 80 per cent of their men. These jawans were part of over one million Indian soldiers who served on the different fronts during the War; between 1914 and 1918, 74,187 of them died.

Some of the French battlefields where Indian soldiers showed their bravery and dedication to a cause which was not theirs, are today part of the history of France. It is good that a 100 years after the so-called ‘Great War’, the French Government has decided to pay homage to those who fought and lost their lives in the cold and cruel trenches of the Somme and other battlefields.

For example, a documentary film titled 100 Years shows the sacrifice of Subedar Manta Singh who saved the life of his British companion before losing his own. Born in Jalandhar district in 1870, Manta Singh belonged to 2 Sikh Royal Infantry. One day, crawling through no man’s land, his friend Henderson and he came under German fire. Manta Singh somehow managed to push his companion under a wheelbarrow, saving the Brit’s life; unfortunately, fatally wounded in the process, he died soon after.

Everybody’s all ears


Aug 14, 2014

V. Balachandran

Who would have thought that Israel would spy on the US? A well-known case is of Jonathan Jay Pollard, who passed on a 10-volume US signals intelligence folder to Israel.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj might not have known the unwritten axiom in the “intelligence world” when she protested to the visiting US secretary of state John Kerry on July 31 that “friends don’t snoop on each other”.

History reveals that “friendly spying” is mostly done when relations are cordial. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius had also similarly complained to John Kerry in Paris on October 22, 2013, when Edward Snowden, former systems administrator with the Central Intelligence Agency, revealed that the US’ National Security Agency (NSA) had monitored millions of French telephone conversations. Mr Kerry, who has become used to facing such “protests”, parried questions diplomatically. “We don’t discuss intelligence in public,” he told a TV channel in New Delhi.
It may be recalled that our external affairs ministry had summoned a top American diplomat on July 2, seeking explanation on the disclosures by Mr Snowden, who had also worked for NSA, that NSA was permitted to do surveillance on the Bharatiya Janata Party. India had termed it as “unacceptable” and sought an assurance that it would not happen again. Subsequently, a pro-BJP newspaper made a direct allegation on July 26 that the listening devices found in BJP minister Nitin Gadkari’s house were planted by a foreign agency since such sophisticated listening devices are used by Western intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA and the NSA.

But Mr Fabius, who was the French Prime Minister from 1984 to 1986, must have known that this verbal duel was a diplomatic charade since it was the French who had started “friendly spying” on the US in 1958 when Charles de Gaulle instructed Gen. Paul Grossin, then heading the French foreign agency SDECE (Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage) to obtain technical and economic intelligence from the US. The first published incident was in 1964 when French spies broke into the hotel room of George Ball, US undersecretary of state, to photocopy his papers on America’s negotiating position at a meeting in France. Memoirs of French spy chiefs like Alexandre de Marenches and Pierre Marion contain vivid stories of their economic snooping.

Energising South Asia India to help Nepal tap its hydropower potential

G. Parthasarathy

PRIME MINISTER Narendra Modi's visit to Nepal received unusually complimentary coverage on two successive days in the New York Times, which is rarely appreciative of India's relations with its neighbours. A report headlined “Nepal enthralled by visit of Indian Premier, who hits the right notes”, noted that the normally fractious Nepalese were “unusually united in their embrace of Mr. Modi”. Mr. Modi focused attention on how cooperation on Highways, Information Technology and Transmission lines would reinvigorate the India-Nepal relationship.

Apart from the announcement of additional economic assistance of $1 billion, Mr Modi’s visit resulted in a movement forward on border demarcation and a review of the contentious India-Nepal Treaty. But what can change the dynamics of India-Nepal relations and accelerate economic progress in Nepal is the mutually beneficial utilisation of Nepal's potential for 83,000 MW hydro-electric power. Despite this, Nepal imports electricity from India. An understanding was reached during the visit of Mrs. Sushma Swaraj to expedite the construction of transmission lines so that Nepal could import additional power from India. The World Bank is also assisting Nepal in enhancing trans-border transmission capacities by 1,000 MW.

The expected signing of a power trading agreement during Mr. Modi's visit did not materialise because of Nepalese objections to what was quite evidently not a well-worded Indian draft. The agreement is, however, expected to be finalised shortly. Optimism has also been voiced about finalising an agreement for commencing work on the 5,600 MW Pancheshwar multipurpose project within the next year. One encouraging development is Nepal will issue 28 survey licences to Indian private companies for hydropower projects amounting to 8249 MW. Some of these surveys have been completed, but much work needs to be done for finalising power-purchase agreements and financial closure. The issue of the duration of these projects also needs to be mutually agreed upon. But progress appears to have been made in finalising details in the 900 MW Upper Karnali Project being undertaken by GMR. A word of caution is necessary. Energy diplomacy with Nepal will have to be conducted sensitively with patience and forbearance, given the country's current constitutional impasse.

DREAM OF SAMENESS - Myanmar seems to aspire to a cohesive Buddhist idyll


Mukul Kesavan

Arriving in Myanmar in early July, I expected to find a country mothballed by decades of isolation, given that it was only in 2011 that military rule formally ended and the West eased its sanctions. I had cast Yangon in the role of an eastern Havana, complete with finned cars creaking through its streets like grumpy sharks. I found, instead, a solidly built colonial city with unbroken pavements, roads dense with late model Japanese cars and an air of quiet well-being.

The locals wore straw hats against the sun, most women wore square patches of pink-brown paste on their faces and snugly wrapped laungyis and, as a token of Myanmar’s integration into the global economy, everyone accepted dollar bills so long as they came unfolded, uncreased and in large denominations. But given that home for me was the belligerent chaos of Delhi, it was the civility of everyday transactions that was striking.

A tourist’s generalizations based on car-borne observations aren’t worth much, but as we rushed around Myanmar, from Yangon to Bagan to Mandalay to Lake Inle, this sense of travelling amongst friendly, unpredatory people was reinforced. Till 1937, Burma was administratively a part of British India, but Myanmar didn’t seem like India at all: the girls that tried to sell us things at tourist sites were happy to take no for an answer and carry on chatting and in a week’s worth of travelling I didn’t once see a man leaving his sign on a wall or against a tree.

Walking on the wooden boardwalk that borders Kandawgyi lake in Yangon, I noticed, as any desi would, the absence of plastic waste and assorted garbage. There was a sense of déjà vu about this because I remembered observing the same absence while travelling in Sri Lanka a couple of years ago and I felt the same sense of demoralization. How did a neighbouring country, not conspicuously more prosperous or ‘modern’ than India, manage to sidestep the insanitary squalor that is urban India’s defining brand and every Indian’s birthright?

A Kargil battle still being fought

Written by Praveen Swami New Delhi 
August 13, 2014 1

PM Narendra Modi, J&K Governor N N Vohra and CM Omar Abdullah in Leh on Tuesday. 

Fifteen years ago, at a glittering function in New Delhi presided over by prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Brigadier Devinder Singh received a citation saluting his role in recapturing Point 5203-metres during the Kargil war, “unmindful of and with total disregard for personal safety”. He was hailed for having “meticulously planned the application of all the resources at his disposal” in the battle for Batlik. Then, he was passed over for promotion.

Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his first official visit to Kargil on Tuesday, his government has been preparing to fight the last remaining battle of that war.

Later this month, the Supreme Court is expected to hear the Indian Army’s appeal against a stinging Armed Forces Tribunal judgment delivered in 2010 on the treatment to Brigadier Singh. Lieutenant-General M L Naidu and Justice A K Mathur had charged top military commanders with falsifying battle records on the brigadier’s role, and ordered the official history of the war rewritten.

Modi and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley will now have to decide whether to pursue the appeal, filed under the UPA government. Their decision could hinge on advice from Modi’s handpicked National Security Adviser, Ajit Kumar Doval, whose eyewitness testimony suggests there are skeletons hidden in the army’s war-room.

Warnings ignored

Brigadier Devinder Singh’s case, and a batch of other Kargil-related litigation by mid-level and junior commanders, all revolve around the build-up to the war. The Army’s top brass, these cases collectively suggest, ignored intelligence warnings of imminent conflict — and then scapegoated mid-level commanders for poor conduct of early operations. The credit for India’s eventual triumph thus went to senior officers, from XV Corps commander Lieutenant-General Kishan Pal upwards.

Beware Pakistan's Possible Democracy Death Spiral


Very soon, the Pakistan Army’s commitment to democracy in Pakistan may face a major test.
Arif Rafiq
August 13, 2014

In the Arabic language, the word inqilab means “coup.” But as a loan word incorporated into Urdu, the official language of Pakistan, it means “revolution.” And so it is quite fitting that some of the most vocal voices calling for inqilab or revolution today in Pakistan are in actuality inviting a military takeover.

On Thursday, the Pakistan Army’s commitment to democracy in Pakistan may face a major test when up to a million protesters representing nearly half a dozen political parties (most of whom have little to no presence in parliament) attempt to march onto Islamabad and hold a sit-in there till the government’s fall. To stifle the protesters, the civilian government in Islamabad, led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who heads the majority faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), has imposed section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code in Islamabad, prohibiting public gatherings in the capital. Sharif has also handed over security of some of the city’s sensitive installations to the army, which could be part of a series of moves by the prime minister to compel the army to take his side publicly, though one report states that the transfer of security was done at the army’s request.

It appears that both sides in this intracivilian dispute are, to varying degrees, attempting to reel the army in. One major faction of the opposition to Sharif, the Pakistani Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) party, led by ex-cricket star Imran Khan, seeks electoral reforms, a full recount of last May’s polls (which he alleges were rigged), and the resignation of the Sharif government. Khan’s August 14 march on Islamabad is a ploy to induce early elections—something that the current government might only agree to if the army is forced to intervene amid chaos. The second major opposition faction, the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), led by Allama Tahir-ul-Qadri, a Pakistani-Canadian religious cleric, has called for a full-scale “revolution” against Sharif and Pakistan’s ruling class. With zero parliamentary seats and a small, albeit devoted, public following, PAT’s goal appears to be to create enough trouble to force an old-fashioned army coup.

Unintentionally, the PML-N has aided PAT in pushing Pakistan toward turmoil that could create a political entry point for the army. Prime Minister Sharif has adopted a “divide and rule” strategy toward PAT and PTI, ignoring the former and seeking dialogue with the latter. The approach had been working till the Punjab provincial government, run by Nawaz’s brother, brutally crushed a PAT protest in Lahore in mid-July. Over a dozen PAT activists, including innocent women, were killed by the provincial police and a goon tied to the ruling party. The carnage in Lahore heavily damaged the PML-N’s credibility and breathed life into the movement of Qadri, a political zero who failed in his efforts to dislodge the previous government last year, giving him legitimate grievances to be aired on talk shows and in meetings with politicians.

China Wonders if Pakistan Is Responsible for Xinjiang Violence

By Akhilesh Pillalamarri
August 13, 2014

As Ankit discussed last week, China may alienate its close friend Pakistan through its discrimination against ethnic Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the Uyghur “autonomous” region in western China.

However, it is just as possible that China will itself be alienated from Pakistan due to Pakistan’s role in incubating Uyghur radicals. The past few days have seen the bloodiest violence in Xinjiang between ethnic Uyghurs and Han Chinese — both civilians and government forces. Over 100 individuals died in the latest bout of violence, which began when Uyghurs attacked police stations in Kashgar. Two days later, the pro-government imam of Kashgar’s largest mosque was stabbed to death. Kashgar, located near the border with Pakistan and Afghanistan, is demographically one of the most Uyghur cities in Xinjiang as well as being a traditional center of Uyghur culture. Among the dead were 59 alleged terrorists gunned down by police.

The Economist reports fears that the conflict in Xinjiang may soon take on features of the Chechen conflict against Russia. Chechen nationalism and demands for autonomy were met with brutality, which in turn radicalized the Chechen movement and fused it with Islamist jihadism. Likewise, Chinese brutality in Xinjiang may lead to a similar radicalization of the Uyghur movement. However, like the chicken or the egg argument, it is impossible to fully argue that the Chinese crackdown will radicalize Uyghurs or if radicalized Uyghurs have indeed infiltrated into China from Pakistan, leading to the worsening of the security situation there.

While many Chinese officials often exaggerate the role of Pakistan as incubating Uyghur radicals to justify their brutality or cover up their own security failures, it is true that the recent increase in violence is linked to Uyghur radicals with ties to militants in Pakistan. They have also picked up strategies learned in Pakistan. Uyghur militants have adopted some aspects of classical modern jihadist violence, such as suicide bombings and indiscriminate killings of civilians, after noting the effectiveness of such strategies in other conflicts like Iraq and Syria. Adopting a jihadist strategy also generally strengthens the zeal of fighters, making it harder for governments to defeat or negotiate with them.

The Pakistan Army’s Facebook War

August 11, 2014

A soldier from the 67th Medical Battalion of the Pakistan Army salutes. Via wikimedia.

Since June 15, the Pakistan Army has been waging Operation Zarb-e-Azb. This military offensive into North Waziristan has triggered a debate about whether it marks a shift in the priorities of the military leadership: the Army claims that it will target all armed groups on the northwest frontier, while skeptics suggest that the military will protect its partners and strategic assets. We cannot decisively settle this question yet, but it is possible to analyze how the military is framing Zarb-e-Azb to the Pakistani public.

Both the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) and the Pakistan Army have an active internet presence, ranging from mundane press releases to flashy propaganda videos. We need to be careful not to read too much into war propaganda. Nevertheless, the military has used media communications to justify the Army’s actions and, at times, to send blunt political messages (as in the wake of the Bin Laden raid). The lack of independent access to the war zone makes the media unusually reliant on the military’s narrative for its own reporting. We therefore may be able to learn something from what the army is emphasizing in this informational battlespace – and, just as importantly, what it is not.

A Vague Enemy

A striking characteristic of military communication is its lack of detail about which groups the military is fighting (see all Zarb-e-Azb press releases here). The initial announcement of the operation saw the military accusing terrorists of waging “war against the state of Pakistan” – but without saying exactly who would be targeted. Subsequent press releases provide detail on the location of military operations, caches of weapons seized, and care provided to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). They also provide body counts of the enemy; for instance, “4 x isolated terrorist hideouts were destroyed early morning today through aerial strikes in shawal valley, killing 20 x local and foreign terrorists.”

But there is almost no information about which groups have been attacked, other than mentions of Uzbek and other foreign fighters. North Waziristan has been a basing area for numerous organizations in recent years, including allies of the military such as the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group and the Haqqani network (while South Waziristan continues to be the home to other military partners, such as the Sajna and Mullah Nazir groups). The military’s media strategy does little to allay concerns that, despite rhetoric to the contrary, it continues to discriminate between “good” and “bad” Taliban. The lack of news about the capture or death of major group leaders has a similar effect: raw body counts without names or organizations carry little credibility.

From Hero to Hateful: Recalling an Afghan Soldier’s Descent

AUGUST 11, 2014 

The recent green on blue attack that claimed the life ofGen. Harold J. Greene, the deputy commander for the Combined Security Transition Command–Afghanistan, has, for good reason, caused a fury of questions in the media about these attacks and what they meant. Who are the Afghans that carry them out? Why do they seem to suddenly turn on the Americans that have been fighting with them for years and years, struggling to help Afghanistan build something from the ruins of three decades of war. The answers, it seems, are complex, but also nuanced. And the questions reminded me of the worst case of post-traumatic stress syndrome that I’ve ever seen.

He called himself Castro. He was a slight Afghan man with fine features, wide eyes half-hidden behind a chronic furrow, and black hair always swept back for how often he would sit with his head in his hands.

One of his first firefights, in 2003, was an ambush that cost two American lives. It happened in a distant valley in eastern Afghanistan, a chance encounter at dark in a place without the slightest significance to American interests before, and now significant only for the families of men killed there. All of it is a metaphor for how CIA officers often die.

The sole remaining American – we’ll call him John – charged up the mountain, trying to break the ambush at the flank. The Afghans with him tried to keep pace, but much popular mythology to the contrary, not all Afghans have evolved with genes uniquely selected for fighting and climbing steep hills. Between the valley floor and the ridge, they all dropped, from exhaustion or fire. All but one: Castro. He and John reached the top, taking fire from both sides. Shooting at the row of Taliban militants to his front, John could not turn to return fire coming at his back. Castro, close behind, saved his life.

Years later, John did not remember the story quite the same way. But distinguishing the details of one firefight out of one thousand can be hard. What was interesting was that this was the story Castro chose to tell over and over: that he was there when two Americans died, he was there when the third charged up the mountain.

The night of that firefight, Castro had a different name. This nom de guerre, an homage to Fidel, that great thorn in America’s side, he chose later — after his PTSD had become clear and he had been transferred to what amounted to an administrative job and after he was no longer in daily contact with the Americans he had long known and separated even from other Afghan fighters. He was descending into a dark place.

It was during this time, in about 2008, that he would often spend the night at the base rather than return home to his wife and daughter, and whenever possible I would sit with him for tea at the end of the day.

I would find him alone in his room, hunched over his computer, grainy bootleg VHS videos of Indian dance competitions playing on loop, mute on a little TV. We would start with small talk: the superiority of Indian television to the indescribably awful Pakistani soap operas, a few old Mullah Nasruddin jokes. But inevitably the conversation would turn. I would see it coming, watching him wring his hands as his voice grew louder, regurgitating whatever had been the message of the day on shahamat or the Al Qaeda blogs: the suppression of the brothers in Palestine, the apostates armed with American tanks, the American hypocrites that dropped the a nuclear bomb on Japan. And it always ended the same way. I hate Americans, he would say. Then, catching himself, he would add: not you. I don’t mean you or John or Brian or Patrick. You are my brothers. I love you. But I hate Americans.

Empire and the Rising Violence in Xinjiang

By Liam Powers
August 13, 2014

The upsurge in violence in China’s west is following a historical pattern.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is failing to deliver on its promises to quell violence in Xinjiang. On July 28, bloody clashes between Uyghur protestors and para-military personnel in Yäkän (Ch. Shache) left at least 96 dead; leaders of Uyghur exile communities put the death toll at 2,000. Three days later, Jümä Tahir, the government-appointed imam at Kashgar’s Id Kah Mosque, was assassinated after morning prayers. These incidents come in the wake of a string terrorist attacks carried out at a morning market in Ürümqi, train stations in Ürümqi and Kunming, and in Beijing’s iconic Tiananmen Square.

Amid this uptick in violence, Western analysts have scurried for answers. Most have tied the recent violence topolicies that infringe on the daily lives of Uyghurs, especially religious practice. Certainly, much attention has been placed on CCP attempts to ban veils and long beards. Officials in Karamay have even temporarily bannedwomen in veils, men with long beards, and individuals in clothing with the star and crescent image from riding public buses. These increasingly repressive policies, analysts have claimed, are responsible for radicalizing some Uyghurs.

Although many Uyghurs are undoubtedly infuriated by these restrictions, I am inclined to agree with Jacob Zenn of the Jamestown Foundation: They do not likely compel people to kill. In fact as early as 2006, I was told by several Uyghurs that veils and long beards were banned in public, students were required to eat during Ramadan (if the academic year and Ramadan overlap), and Party officials were forbidden from entering mosques. In other words, sweeping policies aimed at curbing religious practice were set in motion long ago, not to mention that similar policies banning strict veiling in France have not been met by violent opposition.

How, then, can we explain the escalation in violence? The answer may be found in a critical examination ofBeijing’s colonial relationship with its far-western region.

To help us reconsider Beijing’s rule in Xinjiang and the recent unrest, we turn to an unlikely source: Charles Maier’s Among Empires. In his attempt to challenge our understanding of U.S. hegemony in global affairs, the Harvard University professor provides a blueprint for empire that considers recurring processes and structures of historical examples. The basics of Maier’s model may be used as an instructive theoretical lens for bringing clarity to the underlying sources of Uyghur unrest.

1. Empires are products of territorial conquests

The Great Battle for Asia: China vs. America

August 12, 2014inShare4

Editor’s Note: The Australian Policy Institute (ASPI) has recently been debating the future of the Asian security order. We present the final part of this debate:

Well, this has been an interesting exchange and I thank Peter Jennings for launching it, the team on The Strategist for hosting it, and distinguished colleagues for taking the time to contribute. The exchange has helped to clarify the most important underlying points of difference between us about Australia’s interests in the Asian order. And I’m grateful for the chance to offer some brief concluding thoughts.

In fact Nick Bisley put his finger on it: the key difference between my view and many others’ lies in our different ideas about the future of the regional order. I think the strategic status quo in Asia will not last, while others believe it will.

Let me recap why I think the order is going to change—indeed, is already changing. It’s simple. Asia has been stable since 1972 because China has accepted U.S. primacy as the foundation of the Asian order. China did so because it believed it was too weak to contest it effectively. Now China believes it’s strong enough to contest U.S. primacy, and it’s doing so.

Asia’s post-Vietnam order, based on uncontested U.S. primacy, has therefore passed into history. The question now is what kind of new order will take its place. There are several possibilities. None of them would be as good for Australia as the order we have known since 1972, but some would be much better for us than others. We should be trying to nudge the region towards a new order that would work well for us, and away from ones that would be bad for us.

Most of the posts in our debate differ from my position by arguing, or implying, that we should aim to preserve the status quo instead. That case is made in several different ways.

Rod Lyon rightly draws attention to the risks of moving to a new order that concedes a bigger role to China. But those risks must be balanced against the risks of trying and failing to preserve the status quo. If we refuse to accommodate China to some extent, the most likely result is escalating strategic rivalry.

China Is No International Security Free Rider

August 13, 2014

China’s less militarist approach to international security is a good thing.

A few days ago U.S. President Barack Obama commented that China has been a free rider for 30 years and the U.S. is still the only superpower that others look to when help is needed. This has triggered a debate (see here and here) on whether China is a free rider and what China should do in terms of contributing to international security. However, Obama’s comment that China is a free rider is unfair and misleading for several reasons.

First, it is wrong to claim that China only imports oil from Iraq, thus becoming the largest beneficiary of the Iraq war. Even importing oil from Iraq benefits Iraq as a country; it is a win-win for both China and Iraq. Also, China’s various investment projects (like communications and roads) in Iraq are actually helping to stabilize Iraq. This is in the national interest of the U.S. because part of the root reason of instability and chaos in Iraq is poverty, which partly resulted from the Iraq war.

Second, the U.S. itself was a free rider for a long time when its navy was weak during the 19th century. When you are weak, you are forced to free ride on others’ efforts. Despite China’s rapid growth in recent decades, its military is still limited in terms of its ability to send troops to fight abroad in places like Iraq. There is no doubt that the U.S. is still the only superpower today in the world. For this reason alone, it is natural to look at the U.S. when the world is in trouble. To be a leader also means that you allow others to free ride because in return a leader gets perks such as dominance, prestige, and status.

Third, the more important question is: who created this mess in Iraq today? While we cannot say that the U.S. bears all the responsibility for it, the 2003 decision to invade Iraq was a really bad one, despite all the good advice from many U.S. scholars. For this reason, the U.S. bears a large amount of responsibility for the current situation there. As the old saying goes, you broke it, and then you have the responsibility to fix it. Things are that simple. It is not wise to criticize China at the moment as the latter is helping to fix Iraq in other and equally important ways. Yes, it was the right decision when the U.S. decided to bomb the Islamic State and China supports it. But do not forget that bombing is not a final solution to the Iraq problem. More attention should be focused on national reconstruction in Iraq, which, unfortunately, is not something the U.S. is interested in or is capable of doing.

Fourth, in recent years China has been more active in taking on more international responsibilities (for example, in peacekeeping). Of course China will choose some responsibilities rather than others when considering its own national interests. All countries do this and it is a natural thing to take care of your own interests first. It is true that China should do more in international affairs to provide public goods and there are signs that China is beginning to do that.

*** America Must Destroy ISIS

Robert W. Merry
August 13, 2014

"ISIS represents an ominous threat to U.S. security if it is allowed to establish itself permanently as a state or quasistate in the heart of the Middle East."

Go back to the weeks and months immediately following the Al Qaeda attack on the American homeland on September 11, 2001. Suppose that Al Qaeda had somehow managed to become a major military power in the Middle East. Suppose further that Al Qaeda had established a significant presence in Syria and conquered strategic territories in Iraq, threatening to obliterate peoples and religious sensibilities it despised. Now suppose it had set up what it called a “caliphate” to rule over that territory, demanded fealty from all Muslims everywhere and established itself as an enemy of America.

Question: Would the United States have intervened militarily to thwart this destabilizing force in the crucial Middle East and, if possible, to destroy it?

The answer is yes.

A second question: Should the United States have intervened in such a cause?

The answer is yes again.

That is precisely what now has happened in the Middle East—with two differences. First, it isn’t Al Qaeda that has forged itself into a military force that threatens to destabilize the Middle East and turn it into a hotbed of anti-Western fervor. It is, rather, an Al Qaeda offshoot, the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a far more dangerous threat. And second, the United States, far from the coiled and angry nation that emerged after 9/11, is enervated, tired of war and tired of the Middle East.

Thus do we see a dichotomy that has President Obama in its grip. On one hand, he knows that the most powerful nation on earth has an obligation to maintain stability in crucial strategic regions of the world and also to protect its own people from real and potential threats of serious magnitude. That’s why he has commenced his aerial warfare against ISIS positions in Iraq, where the Al Qaeda offshoot threatens to wipe out Kurdistan in the north and take Baghdad in the country’s crucial central region. The whole of Iraq could soon come under the control of this Islamist force.

But, on the other hand, he knows his countrymen are extremely skittish about another Middle Eastern war that unleashes seething anti-Western passions and saps American blood and treasure. That’s why he has pursued his usual approach of half-measures that make him look decisive, but have little prospect of actually changing significantly the situation on the ground, notwithstanding the initial ISIS retreat from captured territory in response to the first three days of aerial strikes.

The president knows he must do something, so he does something; but he doesn’t want to do anything, so he does as little as possible.

Would arming Syria’s rebels have stopped the Islamic State?


By Marc Lynch August 11

Flier for Syria fundraising event in Kuwait featuring Hajjaj al-Ajmi with Free Syrian Army leader Riad al-Assad and Umma Party head Hakim al-Matiri, June 8, as circulated by @alhayahalshabyh on Twitter.

Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton made news this weekendby suggesting that the rise of the Islamic State might have been prevented had the Obama administration moved to more aggressively arm Syrian rebels in 2012. Variants of this narrative have been repeated so often by so many different people in so many venues that it’s easy to forget how implausible this policy option really was.

It’s easy to understand why desperate Syrians facing the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad hoped for Western support, especially by early 2012 as the conflict shifted inexorably from a civic uprising into an insurgency. It is less obvious that U.S. arms for the rebels would have actually helped them. Arming the rebels (including President Obama’s recent $500 million plan) was, from the start, a classic bureaucratic “Option C,” driven by a desire to be seen as doing something while understanding that there was no American appetite at all for more direct intervention. It also offered a way to get a first foot on the slippery slope; a wedge for demanding escalation of commitments down the road after it had failed.

There’s no way to know for sure what would have happened had the United States offered more support to Syrian rebels in the summer of 2012, of course. But there are pretty strong reasons for doubting that it would have been decisive. Even Sen. John McCain was pretty clear about this at the time, arguing that arming the rebels “alone will not be decisive” and that providing weapons in the absence of safe areas protected by U.S. airpower “may even just prolong [the conflict].” Clinton, despite the hyperventilating headlines, only suggested that providing such arms might have offered “some better insight into what was going on on the ground” and “helped in standing up a credible political opposition.” Thoughtful supporters of the policy proposed “managing the militarization” of the conflict and using a stronger Free Syrian Army as leverage to bring Assad to the bargaining table.

ISIS Adapts To US Airstrikes – Much Like Vietnamese


By SYDNEY J. FREEDBERG JR.on August 11, 2014

A destroyed North Vietnamese Army tank. The NVA responded to US firepower by switching nimbly from conventional offensives to guerrilla tactics — as the so-called Islamic State seems to be doing now.

US aircraft are flying “50 to 60″ sorties a day over Iraq, from food drops to airstrikes, but their impact is local and “very temporary,” the Pentagon’s director of operations told reporters this afternoon. While Lt. Gen. William Mayville didn’t say so outright, it’s clear the majority of missions are still “intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance” (ISR) as the US struggles to figure out what’s going on in a fluidly savage situation in which the adversary is adapting nimbly to our actions.

“In the immediate areas where we’ve focused our strikes, we’ve had a very temporary effect,” said Lt. Gen. Mayville, director of the operations (J-3) for the joint staff. That has “blunted” some tactical offensives by the self-proclaimed Islamic State — aka the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), aka the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) — and it has bought “a little more time” for Yazidi refugees trapped on Mount Sinjar, he told a Pentagon press conference. ISIS forces that were moving confidently in the open have dispersed to “hide amongst the people.” Kurdish peshmerga troops have rallied and driven ISIS back from their regional capital at Erbil (Irbil). The Iraqi central government in Baghdad has even selected a new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, without (so far) the feared coup attempt by despised ex-premier Maliki.

But the US effort hardly amounts to “breaking the momentum” of the extremists, Mayville made clear, and he fully expects them to regroup and find new weak points to attack. “They’re very well organized, very well equipped; they coordinate their operations [and] have shown the ability to attack on multiple axes,” Lt. Gen. Mayville said.

ISIS’s adaptability and resilience are disturbing traits of what military analysts consider anemerging breed of “hybrid” adversary. The modern template for this theory was the Hezbollah militia in 2006, when surprisingly determined, well-trained, and well-armed irregulars bloodied the vaunted Israelis in southern Lebanon. But the reality behind the “hybrid” theory goes back at least to the Vietnamese Communists, who skillfully blended Viet Cong and regular North Vietnamese Army forces, guerrilla tactics and pitched battle: They massed their forces to invade South Vietnam, dispersed into the jungle after the US intervened, then took Saigon with tank columns once the US was gone. Their inspiration, in turn, was the Chinese Communists led by Mao Zedong, who laid out an explicit progression from political subversion to guerrilla warfare to conventional capture of territory.

What’s particularly critical for such forces – and what was lost on many of Mao’s lesser imitators – is the importance of being able to step back from large-scale offensives to dispersed hit-and-run tactics if the enemy suddenly gets stronger. As ideologically and culturally alien as Sunni Arab zealots are from East Asian Communists, it seems ISIS has grasped the universal applicable principle. That’s not good news.

Here's How to Dig Out of This Stupid Sh*t U.S. Foreign Policy

Amer Al-Saedi/AFP/Getty

Leslie H. Gelb

There’s a lot of trash talk at the top (Obama, Hillary, McCain) about what to do in the Middle East. Unfortunately it reflects shoddy leadership at every level.

The usually uninformed American citizens can be forgiven for being mystified by the Mideast policy prescriptions of their leaders. President Barack Obama promises to stop genocide in Iraq and not to do “stupid shit,” meaning virtually anything that might actually stop the genocide. Hillary Clinton rightly proclaims that avoiding “stupid shit” does not a strategy make, though she, too, vigorously opposes stupid shit. And television’s favorite administration critics—Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham—continue their heartfelt advocacy of stupid shit, i.e. more bombs dropped on the bad guys and more arms supplied to the good guys, without any thought whatsoever of what they’d do next in the likely event that this hardly decisive intervention failed. Please convince me that the lunatic jihadis who now infest Syria and Iraq are not the only ones who know what they’re doing.

You have to hand it to the jihadis. So far as I can tell there are only about 327 of them, riding in circles around the mountains to make it look like they have 2 million men under arms. Just like in the old movies. We hear various estimates of their numbers from intelligence agencies—11, 305, 15,001, 27, 345. (I’m kidding, but maybe so is the CIA.) In any event, their totals don’t begin to match the many hundreds of thousands of troops and security forces maintained by the Syrian and Iraqi governments. And jihadi arms don’t begin, not hardly, to rival the billions upon billions of dollars worth of arms the U.S. supplied to Iraq. (By the way, whatever happened to those arms?)

To be sure, the jihadis are now riding around in U.S. tanks and armored vehicles captured from the greatly superior Iraqi forces at the “battle” of Mosul. But maybe the jihadis are winning because they are better trained? You must be kidding me! Most of them never fired a gun until they showed up in Syria from the unemployment lines of Europe and America. And don’t forget, the jihadis don’t really have an air force, which might be another advantage (only kidding, again).

No wonder none of America’s or the West’s best trained intelligence officers predicted that the jihadis would conquer huge chunks of Syria and Iraq, seizing oil wells and dams. Who could have guessed the jihadis would be approaching Baghdad and Erbil (Kurdistan’s capital), pumping Iraqi oil and selling it to our NATO ally Turkey and pumping Syrian oil and selling it to their bitter enemy President Hafez al-Assad?

Turkey Rolls Up the Red Carpet and Finally Begins to Crack Down on ISIS Activities in Southeastern Turkey

In Turkey, a late crackdown on Islamist fighters

Anthony Faiola and Souad Mekhennet

Washington Post, August 13, 2014

REYHANLI, Turkey — Before their blitz into Iraq earned them the title of the Middle East’s most feared insurgency, the jihadists of the Islamic State treated this Turkish town near the Syrian border as their own personal shopping mall.

And eager to aid any and all enemies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey rolled out the red carpet.

In dusty market stalls, among the baklava shops and kebab stands, locals talk of Islamist fighters openly stocking up on uniforms and the latest Samsung smartphones. Wounded jihadists from the Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front — an al-Qaeda offshoot also fighting the Syrian government — were treated at Turkish hospitals. Most important, the Turks winked as Reyhanli and other Turkish towns became way stations for moving foreign fighters and arms across the border.

“Turkey welcomed anyone against Assad, and now they are killing, spreading their disease, and we are all paying the price,” said Tamer Apis, a politician in Reyhanli, where two massive car bombs killed 52 people last year. In a nearby city, Turkish authorities seized another car packed with explosives in June, raising fears of an Islamic State-inspired campaign to export sectarian strife to Turkey.

“It was not just us,” Apis said. “But this is a mess of Turkey’s making.”

A Turkish military armored vehicle patrols on the border of Turkey and Syria. (Umit Bektas /REUTERS)

The U.S. military is back in action over the skies of Iraq, launching airstrikes against the Islamist militants who have taken control of large swaths of Iraq and Syria. But for many months, the militants were able to grow in power partly by using the border region of a NATO member — Turkey — as a strategically vital supply route and entry point to wage their war.

A Covert Operation Gone Horribly Wrong: Putin Faces Prospect of Humiliating Defeat in the Eastern Ukraine

Russia: Send In Troops To Fix And Annex It
strategypage.com, August 12, 2014

Ukrainian security forces have been pushing back pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine for weeks now. Because this means a humiliating defeat for Russian efforts to annex the Donbas there is fear that the Russians will escalate. Ukraine and the rest of the world are waiting to see if Russia will admit defeat or escalate by sending heavily armed “peacekeepers” into Donbas “for humanitarian reasons” to “pacify” the area by expelling Ukrainian troops and annex Donbas. This would make Russia an international outcast, subject to more sanctions and be a major setback for the Russian economy. The two Ukrainian provinces (Donetsk and Luhansk) which comprise the Donbas contain about nine percent of Ukrainian territory, 13 percent of the population and 15 percent of the GDP. Donbas is about 38 percent ethnic Russian. For Ukraine, the Donbas is worth fighting for where Crimea was not. The two provinces comprising the Donets Basin (or “Donbas”) were for a long time an economic powerhouse for Soviet Russia. But that began to decline in the 1980s and accelerated when the Soviet Union fell and Ukraine became independent in 1991.

This looming defeat in Ukraine angers Russia, where senior politicians have portrayed the Ukraine situation as all the fault of the West which was seeking to turn Ukraine into an enemy of Russia (which Ukrainians prefer) rather than a part of a Russian empire (which Russians prefer). Bad relations between Russia and Ukraine go back over a thousand years but Russians still claim Ukraine is theirs and consider any disagreement over that attitude to be a hostile act towards the Russian people. The current Russian leadership is backing this myth but that support is becoming a lot more expensive than originally expected. The West sees the Russian efforts in Ukraine as a return to ancient forms of politics which began to die out in the 20th century. This ancient “create a crises and send in troops to fix and annex it” has been used for thousands of years to justify acquiring more territory. Most large nations used it to a greater or lesser extent to become large nations. This sort of thing had gone out of fashion by the late 20th century and Russia is being widely and loudly criticized for trying to drag the world back to a savage past most people want to move away from.

Despite continued Russian denials that they have anything to do with the Donbas rebels more proof keeps showing up, including recent incidents where Russian soldiers serving with the rebels posted pictures and comments on social media sites. The U.S. has released satellite photos of Russian artillery firing into Ukraine and Russian armored vehicles and trucks loaded with weapons and ammo entering Donbas. Russia denounces all this as falsifications but most Russians seem to believe it, even if many would rather not.

This war has been going on since April and has left at least 1,300 dead so far. About 44 percent of those dead were Ukrainian troops and most of the rest were rebels. Civilian deaths have been low because both rebels and troops have avoided attacking civilians. The fighting has caused nearly 300,000 civilians in the Donbas to flee their homes.

Backgrounder: A Who’s Who of the Top Rebel Political Leaders and Military Commanders in the Eastern Ukraine

Ukraine crisis: Key players in eastern unrest
BBC News, August 12, 2014

The devastating crash of a Malaysian Airlines jet in eastern Ukraine focused international attention on the revolt by pro-Russian separatist forces. Western governments suspect the airliner was downed by a missile fired from a rebel-held area,

Here we profile some of the key figures involved on both sides of the conflict, which erupted in April when the separatists declared independence from the revolutionary, pro-Western government in Kiev.

Alexander Zakharchenko - Donetsk rebel leader

A local field commander, Mr Zakharchenko became the “prime minister” of the self-styled “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DPR) in early August after his predecessor, Russian citizen Alexander Borodai, announced he was stepping down.

"I am a Muscovite. Donbass should be led by a genuine Donetsk native," Mr Borodai explained, adding that he would stay on as first deputy prime minister.

It was seen as an effort to prove that the insurgency in eastern Ukraine was rooted locally, not orchestrated by Moscow.

Alexander Zakharchenko was born in Donetsk in 1976 and after graduating from technical school worked as a mine electrician. Russian media say that later he was a student at the law institute of Ukraine’s interior ministry and also tried his hand at being a businessman.

He was head of the Donetsk branch of the militant group Oplot (“Stronghold”). The organisation was active in helping the former Ukrainian government clamp down on the pro-democracy Maidan protests in Kiev at the beginning of the year.

In May, Mr Zakharchenko was appointed rebel military commander of Donetsk and later became DPR’s “deputy interior minister”. Reports say that right up to becoming “prime minister” he was fighting the Ukrainian army and was wounded in the arm in late July.

Strelkov - rebel commander

Commonly known by his nom-de-guerre Strelkov (which translates loosely from Russian as “Rifleman”), Igor Girkin is one of the most effective military commanders the rebels have.

With a background in the Russian military, including service in Chechnya, Serbia and Trans-Dniester, a self-proclaimed republic on the territory of Moldova, the Russian citizen commanded rebel forces in their symbolic stronghold of Sloviansk before retreating with his men to Donetsk. He says he was a reserve colonel in the FSB, Russia’s Federal Security Service, until 31 March last year.

In West Asia, a faith under siege

August 13, 2014 

Recent political upheavals and extremist-backed violence in the West Asian region, particularly in Syria and Iraq in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, have further complicated and aggravated the situation for the already dwindling Arab Christian community

The problems of the Christian community in West Asia are very complex. The recent political upheavals in the region, particularly in Syria and Iraq in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, have further complicated and aggravated the situation for the already dwindling community. Iraq is home to the world’s ancient Arab Christian communities and had a sizeable Christian population of nearly 1.2 million prior to the American invasion in 2003. Ironically, after the occupation of Iraq by American-led allied forces, the rise in attacks on churches and Christian institutions by extremist groups has become unprecedented. The American invasion has aggravated the perception of Christians being the agents of the United States. According to church sources, the Christian community in Iraq has now been reduced to a population of 4,50,000. This is largely due to the absence of a democratic and secular political system.

ISIS threat

Presently, the strengthening of Islamic militant groups, particularly the ascendancy of the al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has led to the mass exodus of the Christian community from Iraq. Ever since the establishment of the Islamic State, ISIS has stepped up its attacks against the Shiite, Christian and Yazidi communities. Mosul, which is the stronghold of ISIS, is one of the ancient Christian cities in the region and is believed to be the birthplace of the Biblical prophet Jonah. Ironically, since the beginning of June, ISIS militants have torched hundreds of Shia tombs and churches including the tomb of Jonah. Hundreds of Christians and Shiites have been killed and women raped by extremist forces; nuns have been kidnapped from monasteries. Last month, ISIS issued an ultimatum to the Christian community — either convert to Islam, pay a religious tax or “jizya,” or die.

The ISIS declaration states that “we offered them three choices: Islam, the dhimma contract — involving the payment of jizya: if they refuse they have nothing but the sword.” Moreover, Christian houses, buildings and shops have been marked with the Arabic letter “N” as it stands for “Nazarene,” the Koranic word for Christians. At the same time, Shiite homes have been marked with the letter “R” which means “rwadish” (rejecters). This ultimatum has led to the mass exodus of the Christian population to the Kurdish cities of Dohuk and Irbil, which has invariably ended the centuries-old peaceful coexistence among communities and the fraying of the secular fabric of Iraqi society. Incongruously, ISIS has reiterated that there is no space for Christians in the Islamic State. Mosul, which had a sizeable Christian population of 60,000, has now been reduced to a few families. Iraq was one of the peaceful havens of Christian communities and has sent numerous bishops and patriarchs to various orthodox sects.

During my field research in West Asia, the common response of Iraqi nuns and priests of Bethlehem was: “We were very safe in Iraq under Saddam Hussein but the American occupation has made our position very horrible.”

In his recent appeal to the Iraqi community, the Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad pointed out that “Christian and Muslim blood has been mixed as it was shed in the defence of their rights and lands. Together they built a civilization, cities and a heritage.”