30 January 2015

Gita, Gandhi and Godse

Varghese K. George
January 30, 2015 

GRIM REMINDER: “January 30, the day Nathuram Godse killed Mahatma Gandhi, is the starkest reminder in the history of humankind of how the same text can be read differently.” Picture shows Mahatma Gandhi’s funeral procession in in 1948.

Both Nathuram Godse and Mahatma Gandhi read the Bhagavad Gita but one became a martyr and the other a murderer

January 30 reminds us of the fact that even the holiest of texts can have subjective and differential meanings.

The sacred Indian verses of Shrimad Bhagavad Gita has been in the news for various reasons in recent months. Prime Minister Narendra Modi presented a copy of the Bhagavad Gita to United States President Barack Obama when he visited the White House last year and one to Emperor Akihito of Japan. He has declared that the Gita would be the gift that he would carry for all world leaders. More controversially, Union Minister Sushma Swaraj advocated that the Gita may be declared the national book of India. Most recently, the BJP government in Haryana declared its intention to teach the Gita as part of the school curriculum.

To say that religion and politics should not be mixed has not only become a cliché, but may be missing the point altogether. Many tall leaders found the reason for their political action in their religious faith. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr are examples. President Obama mentioned in his town hall speech in Delhi last week that his faith strengthened him in his life. It is also true that many kings and emperors of the past used religious faith to justify killings and destruction.Martyr and murderer

Many individuals and organisations advocate and indulge in violence today, and justify it on the basis of religious texts. January 30, the day Nathuram Godse killed Mahatma Gandhi, is the starkest reminder in the history of humankind of how the same text can be read differently. Both read the Bhagavad Gita. One became Gandhi. The other became Godse. One became a martyr. The other became a murderer. Jawaharlal Nehru, for whom the Gita was “a poem of crisis, of political and social crisis and, even more so, of crisis in the spirit of man,” wrote in the Discovery of India: “... the leaders of thought and action of the present day — Tilak, Aurobindo Ghose, Gandhi — have written on it, each giving his own interpretation. Gandhiji bases his firm belief in non-violence on it; others justify violence and warfare for a righteous cause ...”

Energising the friendship

January 30, 2015

Ten years ago, US President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh aimed to remove a long-standing barrier to deeper US-India ties through a civil nuclear cooperation deal. It was a big idea, but no one could have foreseen how big it would become. Nuclear energy is a highly technical issue, yet somehow it managed to capture, especially in India, the imagination of the public at large. In 2007, I served on the staff of the then undersecretary of state, R. Nicholas Burns — the lead negotiator on the US side — and will never forget the night a security guard at the Delhi airport recognised him. “Nicholas Burns! 1-2-3!” he said, holding up a copy of that day’s newspaper covering the ongoing 123 Agreement negotiations. Ever since those negotiations were completed, the quest for the “next big idea” has hovered in the background of US-India ties.

Today, clean energy cooperation has become the new big idea in US-India relations. Following the Republic Day summit between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the importance of clean energy cooperation in this relationship could not be clearer. As Modi said during their joint press conference, “When we think about the future generations and what kind of world we are going to give them, then there is pressure” to “give a better lifestyle to the future generations, a good life and a good environment”. It’s an area little heralded by the press and public, although it stands to change the world we live in for the better more than any other area of bilateral cooperation.

India and the US share the urgent need to develop affordable, renewable sources of energy to power their economies, and secure themselves from the geopolitical risk of the tumultuous Middle East. Clean energy research and commercialisation bring both countries together in a shared approach to the global challenge of our time, climate change, and draw on the science and technology capabilities and talent for innovation in both countries. Modi means business on clean energy. In his eight months in office, he has already increased the target for India’s use of solar energy fivefold (admittedly a highly ambitious goal) from 20 gigawatt (GW) to 100 GW, and doubled the target for wind energy from 20 GW to 40 GW by 2019.

Takeaways from the Obama visit

Lisa Curtis
January 30, 2015

Twenty years ago, the talking points of U.S. policy were to ‘cap and eventually eliminate’ the subcontinent’s nuclear programmes. Now, to have the U.S. President at the Republic Day parade in 2015 while negotiators worked out ways to operationalise civil nuclear cooperation shows how far India-U.S. ties have progressed

The rain during the Republic Day parade apart, United States President Barack Obama’s visit to India was a near-perfect one. Indeed, his sojourn is likely to be viewed as one of the most important and defining moments in the history of India-U.S. relations.

The pomp and symbolism of Mr. Obama being the first U.S. President to attend the parade was expected. But the substance of the visit, particularly its focus on defence and strategic cooperation, confirms that both Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are serious about bolstering ties.

Progress on strategic agenda

The most significant achievement was the progress made in military and defence cooperation. The renewal of the 10-year framework for the U.S.-India Defence Relationship; the announcement of joint projects, including the co-production of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and specialised equipment for military transport aircraft; the establishment of contact groups to explore co-development of jet engine technology and aircraft carrier systems, and the decision to upgrade bilateral, annual naval exercises represent substantive steps that will deepen the defence partnership.

The establishment of a hotline between the two leaders and their national security advisers are also an indicator of the two countries taking ties to a deeper, strategic level.

Chanakya: India's Truly Radical Machiavelli

January 29, 2015

In his recent book, World Order, Henry Kissinger refers to the ancient Indian treatise, the Arthashastra, as a work that lays out the requirements of power, which is the “dominant reality” in politics. For Kissinger, the Arthashastracontained a realist vision of politics long before the Prince, which Kissinger deems “a combination of Machiavelli and Clausewitz.” Meanwhile, the German sociologist Max Weber once called it “truly radical ‘Machiavellianism’ . . . compared to it, Machiavelli’s The Prince is harmless.”

The Arthashastra is indeed a masterpiece of statecraft, diplomacy, and strategy and is an example of non-Western literature that should be read as part of the “realist” canon. Its prescriptions are especially relevant for foreign policy today.

Although the Arthashastra is ostensibly authored by Kautilya (“crooked”), most scholars agree that Kautilya was a pen name of the ancient Indian minister Chanakya. Chanakya was the minister to Chandragupta Maurya, founder of the Mauryan Empire, which emerged in an environment resembling a Westphalian Europe of many states that encompassed most of present day South Asia. In his role as minister, Chanakya was said to have played a leading role in assembling and administering this large empire. In the Arthashastra, he compiles his observations of statecraft based on this experience.

Kautilya’s Arthashastra is a prescriptive text that lays out rules and norms for successfully running a state and conducting international relations. Like Sunzi’s Art of War, the Arthashastra abounds in generalities and is not descriptive of specific, historical events or battles. In this way, Kautilya sought to make the text useful and relevant in a variety of situations, across eras, a sort of “textbook for kings.”

India: 'Honest Intentions' in Resolving Disputes With China

January 29, 2015

Following U.S. President Barack Obama’s departure from India after a major bilateral visit, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that India had “honest intentions” in resolving all disputes with China, referring specifically to the land-based border disputes between the two countries. India and China currently dispute the territories of Aksai Chin in Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh. The former is administered by China and claimed by India whereas the latter is administered by India as a state and is claimed in its entirety by China as “South Tibet.” The two countries fought a war in 1962 in which China emerged victorious and won exclusive administrative control of Aksai Chin.

“There is a perceptional difference along the Sino-Indian border. China says the border is here. We say no, the border is here. We have been trying to resolve the border problem. China should come forward. India wants a peaceful resolution of all disputes,” Singh said, shortly after presiding over the inauguration of a battalion camp for the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. Singh additionally clarified that India had no territorial ambitions and that he was looking forward to China and India resolving their “perceptional differences” over their shared border.

“We are not expansionist. India’s history says that we have never been expansionist. We have never attacked any country. We are worshippers of peace. China should understand this. We want to resolve all issues with honesty,” he added. The attention on China at an event inaugurating camps for the Indo-Tibetan Border Police was intentional. China has reacted negatively to additional Indian patrols of disputed territories in the past.

How Come India Isn’t Speaking Out Against the Islamic State?

JANUARY 27, 2015 

When President Barack Obama visited New Delhi this week as a guest of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, mentions of the global fight against the Islamic State were notably absent.

The only hat tip to cooperation is buried deep into a U.S.-India joint statement released on Sunday, where the two leaders “reaffirmed their deep concern over the continued threat posed by transnational terrorism,” including groups such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State. The White House says India could play a role battling the Islamic State, according to a Reuters report. And yet at least publicly, top Indian leaders have said almost nothing about fighting the rampant terrorist group in Syria and Iraq. So why has India been so quiet?

For one, India has huge stakes in the Middle East — but in very different ways from the United States. India’s concerns in the region are less about national security implications, and more about the safety of its citizens. India is the world’s number one remittance country; it received roughly $71 billion in 2013, according to a World Bank report — and much of that comes from the Gulf.

An estimated seven million Indians reside in the Middle East, overwhelmingly concentrated in the Gulf, where they tend to be guest workers. And India still has an unknown number of workers in Syria. If New Delhi joined a coalition, or started speaking out against the Islamic State, it would “put a massive target on their backs,” says Tanvi Madan, an India expert at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington.

Integrated Air Defence for the Indian Airspace

29 Jan , 2015

Events such as the Purulia arms drop, use of hijacked airliners as a lethal arm of terrorism, disappearance of a civil airliner from the radar screen and proliferation of tactical and intermediate range ballistic missiles across our western and northern borders, are pointers for us to take a holistic look at our air defence capabilities. To address these issues, which are essentially of peacetime policing, steps have been initiated for closer integration of surveillance and regulatory activities by diverse agencies such as DGCA, AAI and other Services, with the IAF. The indigenously developed IACCS, wherein data provided by all these agencies will be synthesized and analysed to minimise detection-to-interception time, by the most optimum means, is in place in the sensitive areas. Importantly, the IACCS, with new radars, will also bring AD coverage to the Southern peninsula. However, the detection of missiles, possibly armed with weapons of mass destruction, has not yet been adequately addressed.

There is an accepted need for instituting efficient and extended airspace management…

India is a large sub-continent with about 33,00,000 sq. km. of territory, land frontiers running over 15,000 km and a coastline of over 7000 km. The national airspace hence, spans a much larger sphere and is estimated to be about over 40 million cu. km. India also sits across vital inter-continental air traffic routes. With a rapidly growing economy the recorded growth of the last few years notwithstanding, India is an important player in the region and the world. Its geographical location with its island territories, places it at a strategic point to keep an eye on some important maritime trade routes that traverse through the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. Inadequate surveillance and air defence capabilities present serious complexities in the air defence and airspace management of such a large area, which has ever-hostile borders and an increasing density of air traffic.

Afghanistan: Destination Uncertain

On December 28, 2014, at a small, secret, and heavily secured ceremony in Kabul, American General John Campbell declared the end of the U.S.-led combat mission in Afghanistan. Campbell, the last commander of the International Security Assistance Force, rolled up the ISAF flag and, with that, a 13-year mission.

“Today marks an end of an era, and the beginning of a new one,” said Campbell.

ISAF, a force comprised of troops from NATO as well as non-NATO countries, had been leading the fight against the Taliban since 2001. In recent years, it had gradually transitioned from primarily fighting the Taliban to primarily advising and mentoring Afghan forces now doing the fighting. ISAF oversaw the creation of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) – police and army units totaling some 350,000 personnel.

But the war is far from over, and unlike in Iraq in 2011, foreign forces haven’t left Afghanistan. With the end of ISAF’s mission came the beginning of “Resolute Support.” That’s the U.S.-NATO follow-on mission scheduled to run through the end of 2016. Some 13,000 foreign troops will continue training and advising Afghan forces who desperately want and need the help.

You wouldn’t have gathered that from Campbell’s speech, which read like a greatest hits of U.S. and NATO talking points on Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s Emerging Mining Oligarchy

Javed Noorani 
January 22, 2015 

Rich in natural resources—ferrous and nonferrous metals and strategic minerals in particular—Afghanistan faces a dual threat as international troops withdraw and international aid declines. On the one hand are inadequate government revenues. On the other is the resource curse that affects so many low-income countries. This report, drawn from case studies of five ongoing Afghan mining operations, addresses resource exploitation, its impact on the political economy and internal conflict, and possible ways forward. 


Afghanistan is rich in mineral resources, the value of which has been roughly estimated at as much as $1 trillion. 

The country may, however, be following a “paradox of plenty” path in tendering its mining sector to private investors. The risk is not insignificant. 

An unfortunate legacy of decades of internal conflict is the entrenchment and perpetuation of powerful political elites both in Kabul and in the provinces, which extends to the mining sector. 

The mining sector in Afghanistan today is characterized by irregularities and lack of transparency in the tender process, influence peddling, beneficial ownership of mining contracts by politically connected interests, unfulfilled legal and contractual requirements, and substantial loss of government revenue. 

Despite provisions in the Mineral Law of 2010 and its 2014 revision, responsible government entities have largely failed to effectively regulate and monitor the mining sector. 
Companies have not been paying their financial dues for years and generally do not meet contractual provisions for either funding local development or responding to complaints and grievances from local communities, yet continue to operate with an absurd level of impunity. 

Former US general calls for targeting terrorist havens in Pakistan

WASHINGTON: Observing that the terrorist safe havens inside Pakistan, including those of the Haqqani network, pose a major security threat to Afghanistan, a former top American general has called for targeting "terrorist sanctuaries". 

"We have got to step up to what two (US) Presidents have failed to do and that is deal with these sanctuaries in Pakistan from which intelligence, support and training for operations inside Afghanistan comes," Gen (rtd) John M Keane told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during a Congressional hearing. 

"This is Afghan-Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan and specifically the Haqqani Network should be targeted just like Al Qaida. 

"In targeting them we will disrupt it, disrupt their command and control and disrupt their operations. Then we begin to have a chance," he said in response to a question. 

Keane also advised against withdrawal of US counter-terrorism forces from Afghanistan in 2016 or reducing the number of Afghan security forces from their existing strength of 325,000. 

"What makes this so serious strategically inside Afghanistan is Kabul's presence to the Haqqani Network. 

"Every place that gets lit up in Kabul is done by the Haqqani Network and they are in the environs right now with support infrastructure surrounding Kabul," he said. 

"The only thing that we can do to change that dimension is, one, increase the capacity of the Afghan national security forces, we've got to hold them at 352,000. 

"Anybody coming to you and telling you that we should put the Afghan national security forces on a decline after 2016 is absolutely foolish and irresponsi .. 

Singapore’s Cyber War Gets a Boost

January 29, 2015

On 27 January, Singapore announced that it would establish a central agency under the Prime Minister’s Office to coordinate national cyber security efforts.

The chief aim of the Cyber Security Agency (CSA), which will begin operating in April, will be to consolidate and coordinate the Singapore government’s cyber security capabilities across sectors. The idea is to enhance cooperation between the government and businesses as well as among critical industries including communications, banking, water and security. To streamline things and avoid overlap, the CSA will take over some of the functions of previous coordinating bodies and will also liaise with the defense ministry.

The CSA is just the latest move Singapore has taken over the years to boost cyber security. By 2013, the Infocomm Development Authority – the country’s information technology regulator – was already unveiling its third five-year cyber security road map focused on safeguarding critical infrastructure and training cyber security professionals (the first road map was launched in 2005). That same year, Singapore also created a centralized cyber defense operations hub for its armed services and passed legislation to empower the government to respond to cyber threats. The city-state has also encouraged collaboration with other companies and organizations, with Boeing and Interpol both setting up cyber crime centers there last year.

In Singapore’s view, keen attention to the cyber domain is critical. As a developed, highly-networked country which relies on its reputation for security and stability to serve as a hub for businesses and attract talent, it is particularly vulnerable to such attacks. That has become clear over the past few years, both from its own experience at home as well as events abroad. Domestically, Singapore has faced growing cyber threats targeting government and non-government entities, including 2013 attacks by the global hacker group “Anonymous” and assaults on the websites of the office of the prime minister and president by its own citizens. Wahab Yusoff, vice president for Southeast Asia at McAfee, estimates that Singapore’s economy loses around $1.25 billion to cyber criminals annually.

The Challenge of Maintaining American Security Ties in Post-Authoritarian East Asia

The United States faces challenges trying to maintain robust security partnerships with politically liberalizing societies where Washington was perceived complicit in suppression of legitimate indigenous interests. This mixed legacy can inspire electorally empowered publics to raise new complications for continued U.S. presence and influence. Washington must understand and mitigate attendant risks. To explain why and how, we draw on in-depth conversations and interviews with a wide variety of interlocutors in the societies discussed.

New domestic dynamics in politically liberalizing societies demand revisions to relations with Washington, complicating a range of U.S. interests, including forward deployment, ensuring freedom of navigation and maintaining regional stability. Yet, these societies often wish to maintain substantive security cooperation with Washington. Hence, their “ambivalent alignment.” Today, these developments are most readily apparent in East Asian societies, complicating “rebalancing” efforts. Over time, the legacy of American complicity in single-party dominance and even authoritarian rule may likewise affect the U.S. position in other key regions such as the Middle East.

Washington must actively address challenges associated with political transition to better mitigate the attendant volatility and risks associated with such processes. American policy makers have to recognize how American security ties influence the politics of liberalization and consider measures to preemptively dampen fallout that may follow from attempts at using perceptions of the United States for partisan mobilization. The U.S. military, in particular, should minimize negative social effects associated with numerous personnel operating from a given area. These concerns are especially salient in areas where the United States has a long relationship with a previously dominant regime.

China Eyes Land Giveaway Program in Russia’s Far East

January 28, 2015

Russian president Vladimir Putin has offered his support to a “homestead act” that will offer free land to anyone willing to move to Russia’s Far East,Russian media reported last week.

According to RT, the original plan came from Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Trutnev, who is also the presidential envoy to Russia’s Far East Federal District. Trutnev suggested that Russia provide one hectare (2.5 acres) of free land “to every resident of the Far East and to anyone who is willing to come and live in the region so that they could start a private business in farming, forestry, game hunting or some other enterprise.” The government currently owns 614 million hectares of land in the Far East, some of which would be redistributed to citizens under the plan.

Putin reportedly offered his support for the idea, noting that similar programs had worked in the past. With Putin on board, Moscow Times reports, Far East Development Minister Alexander Galushka believes the program could start as early as this year.

With the new plan, Trutnev hopes to “strengthen the tendency of people’s migration to the Far East.” Russia’s Far East, though rich in resources, has long been underpopulated and underdeveloped. The Far East Federal District covers a total land area of roughly 6.2 million square kilometers but has a population of just under 6.3 million, giving the region a population density of around one person per square kilometer. Of those 6.3 million, almost 75 percent are concentrated in cities; the new plan would specifically seek to encourage settlement of land located far away from urban areas.

Chinese Defense Innovation

January 27, 2015

For the first time in its history, the People’s Liberation Army can boast a homegrown arsenal of sophisticated, modern weaponry. The military-industrial complex of the People’s Republic of China has two fifth generation fighters in development, has demonstrated the capacity to build some of the most sophisticated ballistic missiles in the world, and has among the world’s healthiest military shipbuilding sector.

Yet for all of this success, serious questions persist. China remains dependent on access to foreign technology, with many of its most important systems stemming from Russian and Western designs. More importantly, however, China must figure out a way to manage the growing divide between its military and civilian economies. The United States and Europe have struggled mightily to harness their military-industrial complexes (MICs) to private industry, particular in the information technology sector. China’s MIC will soon face the same problems, and how it manages this obstacle will matter much more than questions about how much technology it can steal from the West.

Postwar Emergence

In 1949, the Chinese defense industry produced little in the way of sophisticated military technology. World War II and the Chinese Civil War had destroyed much of the urban industrial base, and the Soviets had confiscated much of the industrial equipment the Japanese had brought to Manchuria. The dire economic situation that faced the PRC in the wake of the revolution made for minimal investment in technological development.

China as a Diplomatic Actor

January 23, 2015

I became interested in China a bit over five decades ago. Back then, with the notable exception of Zhou Enlai and a few people he’d mentored, China’s diplomacy was all revolutionary bluster and bellyaching with no bottom line. Since then the country has changed so often and so much that our view of it has always lagged behind its realities. Frequently it’s had more to do with our own head trips than with China itself. When China didn’t make much difference in world affairs, imputing politically correct but factually dubious characteristics to it and its diplomacy didn’t make much difference. Now it does. So I’d like to spend a few minutes talking about the remarkable evolution of China as a diplomatic actor.

When I first encountered it, China’s diplomacy reminded me of the “forlorn hope.” The forlorn hope is a military maneuver in which a group of soldiers, usually volunteers, is assigned to sacrifice themselves in an almost certainly fatal assault on a heavily defended position so that a larger battle plan can go forward. As a diplomatic version of it, consider Sino-British interactions in August 1967.

Beijing was then in the midst of the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.” The office of the British chargé there had just been sacked and its staff beaten by a mob of Red Guards. Her Majesty’s Government responded by imposing restrictions on the movement of China’s diplomats in London. China’s diplomats there naturally reacted to this by taking up baseball bats and having at the police outside their embassy.

In the ensuing scuffle, at least one Chinese official – along with a bobby or two – was injured. True to the revolutionary spirit of the times, Beijing immediately instructed its chargé in London to lodge a fiery protest against British policy brutality. He was sent an eight-page screed and told to declaim it in its entirety, come hell or high water. Both his instructions and the text were transmitted to him en clair, enabling the Brits to read them in advance.

China buys six S-400 missile battalions from Russia: report


China has purchased six battalions of Russian-built S-400 surface-to-air missile systems to enhance its air defense capability against the United States and its allies in the Western Pacific, reports the Washington-based Strategy Page.

Each battalion has eight launchers, a control center, a radar and 16 missiles available as reloads. A launcher can fire two missiles simultaneously and all equipment is mobile. The cost of each battalion is US$500 million. Originally known as the S-300PMU-3, SA-21 or Triumf, the system was renamed the S-400 because the missile turned out to be far more than just another upgrade of the S-300. Russia deployed its first S-400 battalion in 2010.

The development of the S-400 was undertaken particularly with electronic countermeasures in mind. Compared to its US counterpart, the Patriot system, the S-400 is physically larger and has a longer range but is very expensive, according to the report. With a range of 400 kilometers, the S-400 missile can hit targets at altitudes as high as 31,000 meters and its radar can acquire targets 700 kilometers away.

Two types of missiles are compatible with the S-400. The smaller missile has a shorter range of 120 kilometers. Four of those missiles can be deployed to a launcher, similar to the S-300 systems. The larger missile has two versions as well. One is designed with a range of 250 kilometers while the more expensive one has a range of 400 kilometers.

however, without real combat experience the system's performance still remains unknown, said the report.

King Salman’s Shady History

January 27, 2015

President Barack Obama arrived in Riyadh today to offer his condolences on the death of the beloved Saudi King Abdullah and to meet his successor, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. But just who is King Salman?

The U.S. ambassador in Riyadh, Joseph Westphal, hailed the new Saudi ruler on Friday, proclaiming that ties “will only be strengthened by the wisdom and courage that is the essence of King Salman.” This was not just standard boilerplate from serving U.S. officials: Former U.S. envoy to Saudi Arabia Robert Jordan described Salman as “a reformer … well prepared for the task at hand,” and the Washington Post is reporting that analysts consider Salman “a moderate in the mold of Abdullah,” the late king.

Yet Salman has an ongoing track record of patronizing hateful extremists that is now getting downplayed for political convenience. As former CIA official Bruce Riedel astutely pointed out, Salman was the regime’s lead fundraiser for mujahideen, or Islamic holy warriors, in Afghanistan in the 1980s, as well as for Bosnian Muslims during the Balkan struggles of the 1990s. 

In essence, he served as Saudi Arabia’s financial point man for bolstering fundamentalist proxies in war zones abroad.

In essence, he served as Saudi Arabia’s financial point man for bolstering fundamentalist proxies in war zones abroad. As longtime governor of Riyadh, Salman was often charged with maintaining order and consensus among members of his family. Salman’s half brother King Khalid (who ruled from 1975 to 1982) therefore looked to him early on in the Afghan conflict to use these family contacts for international objectives, appointing Salman to run the fundraising committee that gathered support from the royal family and other Saudis to support the mujahideen against the Soviets.

Iraqi security: It’s not quite as simple as Colonel Núñez seems to think it is

By Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jim Dubik, PhD.
JANUARY 26, 2015 

Colonel Núñez is exactly right in his suggestion that we get beyond the blame game and on to actions that increase the probability of success in the coming Iraqi counter offensive to restore their national border and eliminate ISIS as a threat to their sovereignty. He is also right in saying that the collapse of the portion of the Iraqi Army that fell apart in early 2014 has more than a single cause. But his analysis of the problem and his recommendations that flow from that analysis are incomplete.

From my perspective, three intertwined causes resulted in the poor performance of the Iraqi Army. The first cause was, in fact, two sets of policy decisions taken by the Maliki government—one domestic, the other security. Domestically, the Maliki government created enemies by the way it excluded and targeted Sunnis. These domestic policies fanned the embers of a not-yet-defeated insurgency to the point that Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) not only grew but became a stronger and larger Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS). At the same time, the Maliki government eroded the budding proficiency of its Army by ignoring the chain of command, using instead the Office of the Commander-in-Chief (OCINC), which operated out of the Prime Minister’s office. OCINC asserted de facto operational and bureaucratic command and control of the Army. In the process, command positions were bought and sold, corruption grew, professionalization and training halted, and confidence of Iraqi soldiers in their leaders and institutions diminished significantly. The Prime Minister became both the Minister of Defense and Interior, aggregating all except the most mundane decisions to himself and, thereby, stunting any growth in the continued development of either ministry. Last, he shoved aside the Chief of the Iraqi Joint Forces and the military reform program that he wanted to implement. These policies, aggressively executed from 2011-2014, hollowed out the fledging force that the U.S., the coalition, and NATO had trained. The result: simultaneously a growing threat and shrinking Iraqi army capacity.

Retired generals: U.S. set for failure in Iraq and Syria without clear strategy

January 27

Without a clear strategy from the White House and the return of a robust defense budget, the United States is set for failures in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, argued former generals James Mattis and John Keane, as well as former admiral William Fallon in congressional testimony Tuesday. 

The United States “needs to come out from our reactive crouch and take a firm strategic stance in defense of our values,” Mattis, a former commander of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. He went on to highlight the damage done by widespread budget cuts across the Department of Defense. “No foe in the field can wreck such havoc on our security that mindless sequestration is achieving today,” Mattis said. 

Referring to threats from Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria and al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen under the umbrella term “radical Islam,” Keane lamented what he called a disjointed approach to combating U.S. enemies in the region. 

“We are reduced to a very piecemeal effort,” said Keane, referring to the current drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan. He also said airstrikes in Iraq and Syria were supporting “unproven” local ground forces. 

“This approach almost certainly guarantees we will be incrementally engaged with one radical group after another with no end in sight,” Keane added. 

Mattis raised concerns about strategy in Syria, saying U.S. political objectives remains unclear. He also said the time to support moderate rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime as well as the Islamic State had “passed.” 

Islamic State and Social Media: Ethical Challenges and Power Relations

Tuva Julie Engebrethsen Smith
January 23, 2015

Social media is being increasingly used as a tool of propaganda by terrorists, with platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube becoming critical outlets for dissemination of information. There is an upsurge of an online information war, which groups like the Islamic State (IS) seem to be winning. Social media can be perceived as the oxygen of publicity, and seemingly serves the IS´ agenda well with regard to the recruitment of individuals and indoctrination of impressionable youth. Due to the instant upload of materials, the IS has been able to demonstrate the fear-factor as well as illustrate its sophisticated ability to get messages out to a worldwide audience. What challenges lie ahead in this online information war?

As demonstrated last year, the IS has, rather successfully, built and deployed an army of radical extremists. It has been incredibly deft in using social media as a tool for recruiting foreign fighters, while at the same time intimidating rival powers. The influence of the IS has become far-reaching and its audience is not restricted to Muslims alone. With IS-videos being broadcasted on Western television, in addition to its Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts, the group has literally been able to perform on the world stage and capture the attention of sympathisers, journalists and adversaries alike.

Even though these radical Islamists represent a minority group among Muslims, what is evident is how they no longer can be ignored as a result of a globally interconnected environment. Their use of the social media as a means to spread radical messages and violent attacks is not new per se. However, the way the IS has adopted mainstream media as a tool to recruit foreign fighters while causing global fear stands out from the propaganda campaigns of other terrorist groups. As neatly put by P. J. Crowley, former US Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, “It’s an old game that’s being played in a new way.”1

The Middle East in 2015: Falling Oil Prices and Terrorism Cast Doubt

Having largely turned away from the possibility of wide scale reform and change that the Arab Spring seemed to promise, the Middle East in 2015 is returning to familiar themes: enduring economic pain because of falling oil prices while trying to manage the threat of regional terrorism. 

Sliding oil prices over several months have cast a cloud over the finances of the region’s governments and have taken a toll on investor sentiment in Arab securities markets. Meanwhile, the ongoing civil war in Syria metastasized into the militant group calling itself the Islamic State, and remains a threat to the region. 

The decline in oil prices — more than 45% in 2014, the steepest yearly drop since the 2008 financial crisis, according to Bloomberg — has had an immediate and unavoidable impact on the Middle East, says Wharton finance professor Bulent Gultekin, who was governor of Turkey’s Central Bank in 1993.

“Certainly the whole region is going to be impacted because after all, it’s almost half of the revenues that they are getting Twitter ,” Gultekin says. “Even those countries that are not oil producers [will be impacted because] they depend on those who are. So you have this multiplier effect that is distributed to the whole region. 

“Certainly the whole region is going to be impacted [by falling oil prices] because after all, it’s almost half of the revenues that they are getting.” –Bulent Gultekin 

“Many of these countries depend on those oil revenues, especially the oil-rich countries,” he adds. “Most of them make their budget estimates and expenditures on an expected dollar per barrel. If it is above that, they spend more; if it is below, that means a budget deficit.” 

Save the New Ukraine

JAN. 27, 2015

A NEW Ukraine was born a year ago in the pro-European protests that helped to drive President Viktor F. Yanukovych from power. And today, the spirit that inspired hundreds of thousands to gather in the Maidan, Kiev’s Independence Square, is stronger than ever, even as it is under direct military assault from Russian forces supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The new Ukraine seeks to become the opposite of the old Ukraine, which was demoralized and riddled with corruption. The transformation has been a rare experiment in participatory democracy; a noble adventure of a people who have rallied to open their nation to modernity, democracy and Europe. And this is just the beginning.

This experiment is remarkable for finding expression not only in defending Ukraine’s territorial integrity from the separatists, but also in constructive work. Maidan’s supporters have moved from opposition to nation building.

Many of those in government and Parliament are volunteers who have given up well-paying jobs to serve their country. Natalie Jaresko, a former investment banker, now works for a few hundred dollars a month as the new finance minister. Volunteers are helping Ukraine’s one million internally displaced people as well as working as advisers to ministers and in local government.

No exit

Jan 26th 2015 

At some point the fighting in Donbas became a war. Now there is no going back

IN CONFLICT, physical changes often happen quickly: a road is closed, an apartment block flattened. Mental changes, meanwhile, happen slowly and imperceptibly. It has taken a long time for the realisation to sink in that Ukraine's “crisis” is really a war, and quite possibly a long one. “Too much blood has been spilled to speak of peace,” says ‘Dushman’, a senior rebel commander in Donetsk. When this correspondent first met Dushman last spring, he spoke of how to keep Ukraine united, and called himself Ukrainian. Now Dushman keeps Ukrainians as prisoners. “We took nine yesterday,” he says with a grin.

With separatist forces again on the offensive, eastern Ukraine is taking ever darker turns. Nine months of battle and 5,000 deaths have only fueled the spread of cynicism and hate. One recent rebel propaganda video shows a commander called “Givi” forcing captured Ukrainian soldiers to eat their insignia. The Kiev authorities, in turn, have done little to dispel the perception, common among many civilians inside rebel-held territory, that they want to “destroy the people of Donbas”. A new set of restrictions for crossing the de facto border seem more punitive than protective. Convoys carrying humanitarian aid, including medicine, to Donetsk and Luhansk have been blocked by Ukrainian battalions, drawing condemnation from Amnesty International.

Guns, Lies, and Videotape: The War in Eastern Ukraine Is Back On in Full

JANUARY 26, 2015 - 4:07 PM

After a bloody weekend in eastern Ukraine that left 30 civilians dead and more than 100 wounded, ambassadors from Ukraine and NATO announced that they would hold a special meeting Monday, Jan. 26, to discuss the recent upswing in fighting near the strategic cities of Mariupol and Debaltseve.

The last such meeting of ambassadors from NATO and Ukraine occurred in August, when fighting between Kiev and Russian-backed rebels spiked. By the second week of September, the conflict’s cumulative casualties reached3,517 deaths and 8,198 injuries. The violence in eastern Ukraine had died down after a Sept. 5 cease-fire agreement, but in recent days the war has returned in full force. NATO said on Saturday that Russian troops were supporting a rebel offensive in eastern Ukraine with sophisticated missiles, rockets, and drones and demanded Moscow halt its support. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that Ukraine’s army is a NATO proxy whose aim is to weaken Russia.

On Sunday, rebels attacked government positions along the front line between the separatist strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk. Alexander Zakharchenko, the prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, said the rebels planned to encircle Debaltseve, a key town northeast of Donetsk that is currently under the control of government forces.

What Do We Know About the US Air Force’s New Bomber?

January 29, 2015

As revealed yesterday, the fiscal year 2016 defense budget request contained $1.2 billion ($ 914 millionin FY 2015) for the continuous development of new long-range strike bomber (LRS-B), details of which are scant and remain classified. Only three things appear to be cast in stone: a 2025 in-service-date, a $550-$810 million unit cost (excluding development), and an 80-to-100 aircraft fleet. The rest is speculation. Design and capabilities remain unknown save some obvious ones: the bomber is purported to have stealth capability, carry both conventional and nuclear weapons, and will, in all likelihood, be optionally manned.

The LRS-B, which is supposed to replace the current U.S. Air Force fleet of long-range heavy bombers (the B-1, B-2 and B-52), should above all else be cheap. In 2011, then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, terminated a more ambitious program, the “Next Generation Bomber” (NGB), because of the high costs associated with it. In 2011, he launched the less sophisticated and cheaper LRS-B program instead. The LSR-B is supposed to mainly be built from “existing technologies” saving the R&D costs associated with new hardware and software. Defense News states that the Air Force may be looking for “something smaller than a B-2, perhaps as small as half the size, with two engines similar in size to the F135 engines that power the F-35, so enhancement programs can also be applied to the bomber.” Two competitors will be bidding for the contract: Northrop Grumman, and a joint Boeing/Lockheed Martin team.

Four-Star Critique

JANUARY 27, 2015 

Don’t announce when you’re going to withdraw troops and don’t broadcast the military options you’ve ruled out if you want to be successful in war.

That’s the message retired U.S. Marine Gen. James Mattis delivered to senators Tuesday, Jan. 27, in a thinly veiled critique of Barack Obama’s administration from a general who was a thorn in the White House’s side when he was on active duty. But now Mattis, beloved by his fellow Marines, is no longer under any pressure to keep his views to himself.

“There is an urgent need to stop reacting to each immediate vexing issue in isolation,” Mattis told a Senate Armed Services Committee panel.

He added: “Notifying the enemy in advance of our withdrawal dates or reassuring the enemy that we will not use certain capabilities like our ground forces should be avoided.”

Mattis’s skepticism about White House policies, especially on Iran,reportedly led to his early departure from U.S. Central Command, which he ran from August 2010 to May 2013. That helped make him a perfect witness for Sen. John McCain, the committee’s new Republican chairman, who has organized a series of hearings this month on national security strategy and global challenges facing the United States.

Spy General Unloads on Obama’s ISIS War Plan


Former DIA Chief Michael Flynn likens the fight against Islamic militants to the Cold War and calls for an international chain of command akin to that of the Allies in World War II.

The former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency slammed the Obama administration on Monday as “well intentioned” but paralyzed and playing defense in its the fight against Islamic militancy. 

Recently retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn called for the U.S. to lead the charge in a sweeping, decades-long campaign against the Islamic State group, al Qaeda, and its ilk—a fight like the one against the former Soviet Union—against a new enemy he said is “committed to the destruction of freedom and the American way of life.”

“There is no substitute, none, for American power,” the general said, to occasional cheers and ultimately a standing ovation from a crowd of special operators and intelligence officers at a Washington industry conference.

He also slammed the administration for refusing to use the term “Islamic militants” in its description of ISIS and al Qaeda.

“You cannot defeat an enemy you do not admit exists,” Flynn said.

He said the administration is unwilling to admit the scope of the problem, naively clinging to the hope that limited counterterrorist intervention will head off the ideological juggernaut of religious militancy. 

The Ashes of Hollywood I: The Bottom 4 of the Top 10

Gore Vidal
MAY 17, 1973 ISSUE

“Shit has its own integrity.” The Wise Hack at the Writers’ Table in the MGM commissary used regularly to affirm this axiom for the benefit of us alien integers from the world of Quality Lit. It was plain to him (if not to the front office) that since we had come to Hollywood only to make money, our pictures would entirely lack the one basic homely ingredient that spells boffo world-wide grosses. The Wise Hack was not far wrong. He knew that the sort of exuberant badness which so often achieves perfect popularity cannot be faked even though, as he was quick to admit, no one ever lost a penny underestimating the intelligence of the American public. He was cynical (so were we); yet he also truly believed that children in jeopardy always hooked an audience, that Lana Turner was convincing when she rejected the advances of Edmund Purdom in The Prodigal “because I’m a priestess of Baal,” and he thought that Irving Thalberg was a genius of Leonardo proportion because he had made such tasteful “products” as The Barretts of Wimpole Street and’ Marie Antoinette. 

In my day at the Writers’ Table (mid-Fifties) television had shaken the industry and the shit-dispensers could now…well, flush their products into every home without having to worry about booking a theater. In desperation, the front office started hiring alien integers whose lack of reverence for the industry distressed the Wise Hack who daily lectured us as we sat at our long table eating the specialty of the studio, top-billed as theLouis B. Mayer Chicken Soup with Matzoh Balls (yes, invariably, the dumb starlet would ask, what do they do with the rest of the matzoh?). Christopher Isherwood and I sat on one side of the table; John O’Hara on the other. Aldous Huxley worked at home. Dorothy Parker drank at home. 

The last time I saw her, Los Angeles had been on fire for three days. As I took a taxi from the studio, I asked the driver, “How’s the fire doing?” “You mean,” said the Hollywoodian, “the holocaust.” The style, you see, must come as easily and naturally as that. I found Dorothy standing in front of her house, gazing at the smoky sky; in one hand she held a drink, in the other a comb which absently she was passing through her short straight hair. As I came toward her, she gave me a secret smile. “I am combing,” she whispered, “Los Angeles out of my hair.” But of course that was not possible. The ashes of Hollywood are still very much in our hair, as the ten bestsellers I have just read demonstrate.