Tag Archives: Iran

The Danger of Fibbing Our Way Into War

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“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT (POGO)

Presidents seem to have an especially troublesome time with the truth when it comes to showing toughness……U.S. military response to an imaginary attack in the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam in 1964.

……. Saddam Hussein’s purported weapons of mass destruction to justify his 2003 invasion of Iraq. …the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani shortly after the general landed at the Baghdad airport in neighboring Iraq on January 3.

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“Many recall Winston Churchill’s statement on the need to sometimes fudge facts. “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies,” he told Josef Stalin on the British prime minister’s 69th birthday in 1943.

What folks may not know is where he uttered those words: Iran.

Presidential rhetoric matters. And love him or loathe him, President Donald Trump isn’t bosom buddies with the truth. In today’s political environment, a lot of what used to be viewed as disqualifying for a president to say has been upended by our 45th. But one bright shining line should remain: The words he speaks as commander-in-chief should be true.

Trump’s boasting has highlighted a novice’s emphasis on weapons—shiny hardware—rather than on “software”—the troops and the training that are arguably more important.

The lives of Americans in uniform are too precious, and the nation’s credibility too important, to be frittered away by a president playing loose with the truth in a pursuit of political advantage or simply out of ignorance. Yet that is what is happening, and nowhere is that more clear than in the recent fracas with Iran.

Presidents seem to have an especially troublesome time with the truth when it comes to showing toughness. President Lyndon B. Johnson played loose with it when he pushed for a U.S. military response to an imaginary attack in the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam in 1964. President George W. Bush exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s purported weapons of mass destruction to justify his 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Trump fired a fusillade of fibs in the wake of his decision to order the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani shortly after the general landed at the Baghdad airport in neighboring Iraq on January 3. He seemed to exaggerate the imminence of the threat Soleimani posed (the U.S. had put him on a kill list last June), and declared the Iranian general had been ready to attack four unidentified U.S. embassies. There’s no doubt that Soleimani was a bad actor, with his Quds force responsible for sowing terror across the Middle East and for killing Americans. There’s no doubt that the region, and the world, is better off without him. But Trump’s faux facts surrounding the killing are dangerous because they could let Washington and Tehran stumble into a war. There’s a reason President Teddy Roosevelt said that it’s best to speak softly and carry a big stick.”

After nearly 20 years of winless wars following 9/11, and a Pentagon budget that is well above the Cold War average, U.S. national security spending has never been a more target-rich environment. That is why the Project On Government Oversight’s Center for Defense Information has launched The Bunker, a precision-guided e-newsletter targeting your inbox most every week.Sign Up

Churchillian lies only work when they are salted among truths. But Trump’s fabrications are more routine than rare. According to the Washington Post, Trump has made more than 16,000 false or misleading statements since taking office. That’s an average of about 15 a day, seven days a week.

Make no mistake about it, Soleimani’s death was a good thing. I well remember the pain felt by U.S. troops following their invasion of Iraq when insurgents’ crude roadside bombs were replaced with so-called “explosively formed penetrators” developed by Iran that pierced armor and killed the soldiers inside. But baiting a terrorist, or his sponsor, carries its own risk. Most critically, it means that if the terrorist—and Soleimani was a terrorist in Iranian government garb—calls Trump’s bluff, Trump will be forced to back up his bluster with young American blood.

In an apparent effort to discourage Iran from taking action after Soleimani’s death, Trump warned that the U.S. was primed to retaliate bigly if Iran retaliated. “The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment. We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World!” Trump tweeted January 5, two days after a pair of Hellfire missiles took Soleimani out. “If Iran attacks an American Base, or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way … and without hesitation!” But his spending estimate was a five-fold whopper. The Trump administration has spent “only” about $400 billion on new military hardware (the rest has paid for more boring items like troops, training, beans, and boots).

Even when he’s plainly wrong, the president dodges. After Iran responded to Soleimani’s death with a January 8 missile barrage aimed at U.S. bases in Iraq, the president declared that “no Americans were harmed.” It turns out, there were delayed diagnoses in at least 64 U.S. military personnel of traumatic brain injuries resulting from the missiles’ warheads that had detonated nearby. Instead of acknowledging those injuries, the president minimized TBIs—the signature, and invisible, wound suffered by U.S. troops in the post-9/11 wars—as “headaches.” His comments triggered ire from veterans and veterans’ organizations trying to help the nearly half-million U.S. troops diagnosed with brain injuries since 2000.

(Source: @realDonaldTrump on Twitter)

As U.S. skepticism surrounding the wisdom of the Soleimani hit mounted, Trump hyped the imminent threat the Iranian general posed to U.S. facilities and personnel. “I can reveal I believe it probably would’ve been four embassies,” he told Fox News January 10, in a double-weasel-worded bank shot. Unfortunately, reporting has shown no one else—not the U.S. diplomats in any embassies nor Secretary of Defense Mark Esper—was aware of the plot.

It contributed to a sense of chaos inside the U.S. government as everyone from cabinet officers to junior military officers struggled to retroactively jury-rig explanations for the verbal hand grenades the commander-in-chief was tossing their way. His enablers in government pivoted to praising the U.S. intelligence about Soleimani in general, and not the harder-edged claims about timing and targets.

(Source: @realDonaldTrump on Twitter)

The president’s claim quickly foundered on the facts. On January 13, three days after making it, Trump dismissed it all as a kerfuffle ginned up by “the Fake News Media and their Democrat Partners.” After all, “it doesn’t really matter because of his horrible past!” he tweeted in reference to Soleimani.

It was as if Emily Litella of 1970s-era Saturday Night Live fame were sitting behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, looking straight into the camera. “Never mind,” Litella, played by Gilda Radner, would chirpily say after screwing up something markedly less important than war and peace.

No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, this kind of thing matters. U.S. relations with nations in the Middle East have suffered following its 2003 invasion of Iraq. And with scant credibility at home or abroad, Trump has no reservoir of truth to draw on to reassure the American public and nervous allies that he has anything more than a wing-it strategy.

Trump’s boasting has highlighted a novice’s emphasis on weapons—shiny hardware—rather than on “software”—the troops and the training that are arguably more important. “The quality of military personnel is what matters most in any military force,” the Army said in a 1991 report in the wake of the Persian Gulf War, the last time the U.S. military could claim a clear-cut victory. “Weapons are useless unless deployed in the hands of capable and well-trained people.”

On Christmas Eve, during the traditional presidential telephone calls to troops far from home, Trump told an Air Force officer that “you didn’t have brand new airplanes” until Trump occupied the White House. “You were not doing well,” he said, “And now you have all brand new.”

(Source: Congressional Budget Office, “The Cost of Replacing the Department of Defense’s Current Aviation Fleet,” page 2.)

Well, not quite. “The Army’s and the Department of the Navy’s aviation fleets are relatively new, but the Air Force operates many older aircraft,” the Congressional Budget Office noted in a January 15 report. “On average, the Army’s aircraft are 14 years old, and the Department of the Navy’s are 16 years old; the Air Force’s aircraft, on average, are 28 years old.”

The Air Force Times, an independent newspaper, reported last summer that the readiness of Air Force aircraft slipped to its lowest level in at least six years in 2018. In 2012—midway through Barack Obama’s tenure as president—77.9%of aircraft were ready to fly. By 2017—Trump’s first year in office—that figure had fallen to 71.3%. And in 2018 it had dipped to 69.97%. And fraying readiness has led to a spate of deadly military accidents.

What’s really depressing about Trump’s arms-length relationship with the truth is that he turbocharges the military-industrial complex’s self-licking ice-cream cone reflex. In the wake of Soleimani’s death, calls arose for boosting defense spending, which already tops the Cold War average. Hawkish cheerleaders for military action were echoing that line to their cable TV audiences, without revealing their lucrative alliances with defense contractors.

The illusion in all this chest-thumping and wallet-pumping is that money can buy victory. But the hubris wrought by fat military budgets has too often let the U.S. sleepwalk into war. The nation believes what the politicians and generals say, and what defense-contractor brochures declare (for example, per Trump: “We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World!”).

That’s especially the case when Congress fails to meet its obligation to debate, and vote on, the wisdom of declaring war. Restoring that constitutional duty would do two things: we’d go to war far less and we’d prevail far more. Too often, war has become a White House reflex, with Congress and the public serving as not-so-innocent bystanders. Yet the nation tends to become numb to such conflicts after a month or two, in part because its advice was never sought. That lets the Pentagon wage war so long as U.S. casualties are minimal.

What’s amazing about Trump’s Iran over-reaching is that it wasn’t necessary, given Soleimani’s key role in killing hundreds of U.S. troops. But instead of sticking to facts, the president chose fiction.

It was just such slippery language that greased the skids to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, based on the false claim that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

We need to take care that Trump’s all-too-real weapons of mass delusion don’t trigger another one.

Center for Defense Information

The Center for Defense Information at POGO aims to secure far more effective and ethical military forces at significantly lower cost.”

https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2020/01/the-danger-of-fibbing-our-way-into-war/

Veterans Speak Out On War Cost Amid Middle East Tension

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Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division board a bus to be taken to a flight line as they deploy to Middle East on Saturday January 4th 2020 at Ft. Bragg N.C. Malissa Sue Gerrits The Fayetteville Observer via A.P.

USA TODAY

Some say it’s time for Americans to cut our losses and bring U.S. troops home. Others say we need to keep our armed forces in place if it prevents another 9/11.

One message is clear: “Wars cost.”

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“The images are horrific. His left eyeball seemed to float in the bloody, mangled mass that used to be his face.

A bomb tore through the front of U.S. Army sniper Robert Bartlett’s head as he rode in a Humvee in Iraq in 2005. The device was traced to the Iranian Quds Force led by Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

So when President Donald Trump ordered the killing of the general last week, it wasn’t exactly an unwelcome development for Bartlett. 

Bartlett, who’s now a motivational speaker and veterans’ advocate, and other veterans who have served in the Middle East agree on that much. They differ on what should happen next.

Army Sgt. Robert Bartlett was disfigured during deployment in Iraq in 2005.
Army Sargent Robert Bartlett was disfigured during deployment to Iraq in 2005 American Society of Plastic Surgeons

But their years patrolling in Humvees, enduring stinging sandstorms and dealing with extreme temperatures have given them important perspective as the nation – again – focuses its attention on conflict in the Middle East.

Some say the face-off with Iran, which retaliated with a missile strike on Iraq bases Tuesday night, has reminded the American public of the uncertainty service members and their families have faced for nearly two decades since the U.S. military first invaded Afghanistan.

Some say it’s time for Americans to cut our losses and bring U.S. troops home. Others say we need to keep our armed forces in place if it prevents another 9/11.

One message is clear: “Wars cost,” said Sherman Gillums Jr., a Marine veteran who was paralyzed as he prepared to ship out to Afghanistan in 2002. 

“If you want it or believe it’s necessary but can’t fight it yourself, at least be prepared to pay in some other way,” Gillums said. 

He is now chief strategy officer at American Veterans, or AMVETS, a nonprofit veterans’ advocacy organization with more than 250,000 members.

Make no mistake, Bartlett said: The United States is at war with Iran. 

“We can keep lying to ourselves and say, ‘Hey, we’re not at war with them, we don’t want to be at war with them,’” he said. “Well, they’re at war with us, so you are at war with them.” 

Ending the ‘forever war’

Americans may have pushed Iraq to the back of their minds as American forces there dwindled and Trump declared ISIS had been defeated. But veterans interviewed by USA TODAY said the recent hostilities with Iran are an escalation of a conflict that has been going on for years.

In 2001, when U.S. forces prepared to take a crucial airport in Afghanistan during the initial U.S. invasion, one of the first things they did was destroy the runways, said Joe Chenelly, a Marine veteran who took part. “So that the Iranians could stop bringing stuff in to them,” he said.

That’s why Bartlett reacted to Soleimani’s death the way he did.

“I just got overcome with emotion,” he said. “Reluctantly, I prayed for his soul and the others who were killed. … Then I went and celebrated with a 12-year-old Scotch and a cigar.”

Chenelly, who is now national executive director of AMVETS, said the organization has been in favor of ending the “forever war” for years. What happened in the past week, however, “obviously complicates things.”

Now, he said, the most important consideration should be ensuring the security of U.S. forces and the nation. But today’s highly charged political environment makes it hard, he said, for Americans to talk about how to achieve that. 

“It’s hard to talk about this and not be labeled as taking one side or the other – the political side, which really isn’t fair when we’re talking about life and death,” Chenelly said. “It’s a lot deeper than Rs versus Ds or vice versa.”

National Executive Director of AMVETS Joe Chenelly poses for a photograph Thursday, March 29, 2018, in Washington.
National Executive Director of AMVETS, Joe Chennelly Alex Brandon AP

Navy veteran Jeremy Butler said images of troops being deployed to the Middle East recently have returned to the national spotlight the realities of military life: “what it’s like to be on call, what it’s like to have family members quickly deployed, what it’s like to have the uncertainty of not knowing when you’re going to see your spouse or your parents again.”

Butler deployed in 2003 in support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and is now chief executive officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which advocates for post-9/11 veterans. 

In addition to the 5,000 U.S. troops killed in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 50,000 have been wounded. Years later, those veterans require care by their families and American taxpayers.

Some veterans question what the U.S. is fighting for

Iraq combat veteran Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said what’s missing from the national conversation about recent hostilities with Iranis a strategy.

Rieckhoff, who unabashedly refers to Trump as “President Mayhem” on his podcast, said the White House and Pentagon need to articulate a clear strategy for the region beyond economic sanctions meant to pressure Iran into dropping its nuclear ambitions.

Trump on Wednesday pledged to impose more of those sanctions in response to Iran’s missile strikes. 0:151:20

Rieckhoff called Trump’s remarks nebulous. “Felt all over the place,” he tweeted. 

Trump’s address signaled a de-escalation from his earlier rhetoric, in which he pledged to strike Iranian cultural sites “VERY FAST AND VERY HARD” if Iran retaliated for Soleimani’s killing. 

Veteran Army Special Forces officer Joe Kent wants the president to go further and pull U.S. troops out of Iraq – and away from Iran. That’s what Trump campaigned on.

“I would get all of our forces out of … striking distance,” he said. Kent deployed several times to Iraq. His wife was killed in Syria last year during her fifth combat deployment.

“If we do decide to stay in Iraq, either against the will of the Iraqi parliament or at the blessing of the Iraqi government, the question is, what are we fighting for?” he asked. “Are we fighting for the Iraqi government?”

Sherman Gillums Jr., chief strategy officer at American Veterans, or AMVETS, speaks during the 3rd Annual Vetty Awards at The Mayflower Hotel on Jan. 20, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Sherman Gillums, Jr., Chief Strategy Officer AMVETS Paul Morigi Getty Images

Marine veteran Dan Caldwell agrees. He said keeping troops in Iraq is “insane.” Caldwell is senior adviser to Concerned Veterans for America, a Koch-backed group that has supported Trump.

U.S. missions to eradicate ISIS and train and equip Iraqi forces are now complete, Caldwell said.

“The only mission our troops have in Iraq is guarding bases that no longer serve a purpose,” he said. “There’s no pressing national security need to have them there.” 

Middle East experts have said a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq could be disastrous, creating a power vacuum for both Iran and the Islamic State terrorist group to fill. 

And Bartlett, who was disfigured by the Iranian-made bomb in 2005, warned against such sweeping judgments without knowing what intelligence is guiding U.S. leaders’ decision-making.

The lessons of 9/11 are worth remembering, Bartlett said: A small group of terrorists can kill thousands of people. “So we’ve got to keep that in mind. When we don’t deal with it, then we lose a lot of civilians.”

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/01/09/wars-cost-iraq-veterans-speak-out-amid-u-s-tensions-iran/2831788001/


War Weary-Disinterested America And Its Soldiers

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Image: “Oocities.com”

Editors Note: Published 5 years ago this article is still basically true in 2020 –  Veterans from the United States’ two most recent wars serving in the House and Senate say the American military cannot fix what is a cultural and political issue: the inability of governments to thwart extremism within their own borders.

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“ROSE COVERED GLASSES”

“As the U.S. continues into a second decade of the war on terror, our citizens and our volunteer military are growing disinterested and weary respectively. 

The Military Industrial Complex (MIC) continues to make grand strides in technology, spending billions on new air craft and naval vessels, cyber warfare tools and sensors, while we downsize the combat soldiers to stand in the job line or wait for admission to veterans’ hospitals. 
CRITERIA FOR WINNING
“THE ATLANTIC”
“Although no one can agree on an exact figure, our dozen years of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and neighboring countries have cost at least $1.5 trillion.

Yet from a strategic perspective, to say nothing of the human cost, most of these dollars might as well have been burned. “At this point, it is incontrovertibly evident that the U.S. military failed to achieve any of its strategic goals in Iraq,” a former military intelligence officer named Jim Gourley wrote recently for Thomas E. Ricks’s blog, Best Defense. “Evaluated according to the goals set forth by our military leadership, the war ended in utter defeat for our forces.”

In 13 years of continuous combat under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the longest stretch of warfare in American history, U.S. forces have achieved one clear strategic success: the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Their many other tactical victories, from overthrowing Saddam Hussein to allying with Sunni tribal leaders to mounting a “surge” in Iraq, demonstrated great bravery and skill. But they brought no lasting stability to, nor advance of U.S. interests in, that part of the world.

When ISIS troops overran much of Iraq last year, the forces that laid down their weapons and fled before them were members of the same Iraqi national army that U.S. advisers had so expensively yet ineffectively trained for more than five years.”

The Tragedy of the American Military 

RISK ASSESSMENT

Our government has not considered the risks, the indigenous cultural impact, the expense and the sacrifices required to sustain the nation building that must occur after we invade countries in pursuit of perceived enemies and place the burden of governance on military personnel who are not equipped to deal with it or manage USAID contractors who have profit motives in mind and corruption as a regular practice.

“POGO”

“Cost-plus contracts have long been criticized by government watchdogs like the Project On Government Oversight and waste-conscious lawmakers. Most recently, incoming Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) bluntly stated that these contracts are “disgraceful” and should be banned.”
  
Your Tax Dollars Defrauded

 THOSE WHO HAVE FOUGHT ASK GOOD QUESTIONS

‘NEW YORK TIMES”

“There are 26 veterans from the United States’ two most recent wars serving in the House and Senate.

Many say their experience in Iraq and Afghanistan taught them that the American military cannot fix what is fundamentally a cultural and political issue: the inability of governments to thwart extremism within their own borders.

Ted Lieu of California, said he would not support giving Mr. Obama the formal authority he had requested because, like many veterans, he finds it difficult to see how the conflict will ever end.

“The American military is an amazing force. We are very good at defeating the enemy, taking over territory, blowing things up,” said Mr. Lieu, who served in the Air Force and remains in the Air Force Reserve as a lieutenant colonel. “But America has traditionally been very bad at answering the next question, which is what do you do after that.”

Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now serving in Congress have emerged as some of the most important voices in the debate over whether to give President Obama a broad authorization for a military campaign against the Islamic State or something much more limiting.”
Veterans in Congress Bring Rare Perspective
NO SKIN IN THE GAME
“THE ATLANTIC”
“A people untouched (or seemingly untouched) by war are far less likely to care about it,” Andrew Bacevich wrote in 2012. Bacevich himself fought in Vietnam; his son was killed in Iraq. “Persuaded that they have no skin in the game, they will permit the state to do whatever it wishes to do.”
 The Tragedy of the American Military
BUYING OUR WAY OUT?

Foreign aid in the billions continues to the Middle East.  US weapons export sales have reached a crescendo, increasing by 31% to 94 countries. with the Middle East receiving the line share.
US Arms Exports Increase 31%
A single Weapon, the 1.4 Trillion dollar F-35 will soon account for 12% of our total national debt.
The 1.4 $Trillion F-35 Aircraft
QUOTE BY ERIC PRINCE, EX- CEO BLACKWATER:
“NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE”
“The world is a much more dangerous place, there is more radicalism, more countries that are melting down or approaching that state.” 
At the same time, the Pentagon is under growing pressure to cut spending and the cost of the all-volunteer force keeps rising, Prince said. 
“The U.S. military has mastered the most expensive way to wage war, with a heavy expensive footprint.” Over the long run, the military might have to rely more on contractors, as it will become tougher to recruit service members. 
Prince cited recent statistics that 70 percent of the eligible population of prospective troops is unsuitable to serve in the military for various reasons such as obesity, lack of a high school education, drug use, criminal records or even excessive tattoos. In some cases, Prince said, it might make more sense to hire contractors.”
What’s Eric Prince Been Up To?
QUESTIONS FOR THE READER:

Did not the Roman Empire run into these issues when they outsourced their wars and went to the baths?

What makes us believe this worldwide war of attrition can continue indefinitely and that our younger generations are going to be willing to enlist and/or pay the bills?

Image: Photolibra

 Can we insist our government representatives consider these factors and plan ahead?

Future generations, their wealth, health and treasure will depend on our answers.

https://rosecoveredglasses.blogspot.com/2015/03/war-weary-disinterested-america-its.html

American Identity and the Threats of Tomorrow

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STRATFOR Risk Final

“STRATFOR”

“Americans are tired of war. They want to go home and shut the world out, and with the death of al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden on May 2, 2011, they feel that they have the opportunity to do so.

Second, the American military is battle-weary. It needs to rest, recuperate and digest the lessons of the wars it has just fought, and American politicians are in a mood to allow it to do just that.”

_________________________________________________________________________________________

“Editor’s Note

This installment on the United States, presented in two parts, is the 16th in a series of Stratfor monographs on the geopolitics of countries influential in world affairs.Click here for part one.

We have already discussed in the first part of this analysis how the American geography dooms whoever controls the territory to being a global power, but there are a number of other outcomes that shape what that power will be like. The first and most critical is the impact of that geography on the American mindset.

The formative period of the American experience began with the opening of the Ohio River Valley by the National Road. For the next century Americans moved from the coastal states inland, finding more and better lands linked together with more and better rivers. Rains were reliable. Soil quality was reliable. Rivers were reliable. Success and wealth were assured. The trickle of settlers became a flood, and yet there was still more than enough well-watered, naturally connected lands for all.
And this happened in isolation. With the notable exception of the War of 1812, the United States did not face any significant foreign incursions in the 19th century. It contained the threat from both Canada and Mexico with a minimum of disruption to American life and in so doing ended the risk of local military conflicts with other countries. North America was viewed as a remarkably safe place.
Even the American Civil War did not disrupt this belief. The massive industrial and demographic imbalance between North and South meant that the war’s outcome was never in doubt. The North’s population was four times the size of the population of free Southerners while its industrial base was 10 times that of the South. As soon as the North’s military strategy started to leverage those advantages the South was crushed. Additionally, most of the settlers of the Midwest and West Coast were from the North (Southern settlers moved into what would become Texas and New Mexico), so the dominant American culture was only strengthened by the limits placed on the South during Reconstruction.
As a result, life for this dominant “Northern” culture got measurably better every single year for more than five generations. Americans became convinced that such a state of affairs — that things can, will and should improve every day — was normal. Americans came to believe that their wealth and security is a result of a Manifest Destiny that reflects something different about Americans compared to the rest of humanity. The sense is that Americans are somehow better — destined for greatness — rather than simply being very lucky to live where they do. It is an unbalanced and inaccurate belief, but it is at the root of American mania and arrogance.
Many Americans do not understand that the Russian wheat belt is the steppe, which has hotter summers, colder winters and less rain than even the relatively arid Great Plains. There is not a common understanding that the histories of China and Europe are replete with genocidal conflicts because different nationalities were located too close together, or that the African plateaus hinder economic development. Instead there is a general understanding that the United States has been successful for more than two centuries and that the rest of the world has been less so. Americans do not treasure the “good times” because they see growth and security as the normal state of affairs, and Americans are more than a little puzzled as to why the rest of the world always seems to be struggling. And so what Americans see as normal day-to-day activities the rest of the world sees as American hubris.
But not everything goes right all the time. What happens when something goes wrong, when the rest of the world reaches out and touches the Americans on something other than America’s terms? When one is convinced that things can, will and should continually improve, the shock of negative developments or foreign interaction is palpable. Mania becomes depression and arrogance turns into panic.
An excellent example is the Japanese attack on American forces at Pearl Harbor. Seventy years on, Americans still think of the event as a massive betrayal underlining the barbaric nature of the Japanese that justified the launching of a total war and the incineration of major cities. This despite the fact that the Americans had systemically shut off East Asia from Japanese traders, complete with a de facto energy embargo, and that the American mainland — much less its core — was never threatened.
Such panic and overreaction is a wellspring of modern American power. The United States is a large, physically secure, economically diverse and vibrant entity. When it acts, it can alter developments on a global scale fairly easily. But when it panics, it throws all of its ample strength at the problem at hand, and in doing so reshapes the world.
Other examples of American overreaction include the response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik and the Vietnam War. In the former, the Americans were far ahead of the Soviets in terms of chemistry, electronics and metallurgy — the core skills needed in the space race. But because the Soviets managed to hurl something into space first the result was a nationwide American panic resulting in the re-fabrication of the country’s educational system and industrial plant. The American defeat in the Vietnam conflict similarly triggered a complete military overhaul, including the introduction of information technology into weapon systems, despite the war’s never having touched American shores. This paranoia was the true source of satellite communications and precision-guided weapons.
This mindset — and the panic that comes from it — is not limited to military events. In the 1980s the Americans became convinced that the Japanese would soon overtake them as the pre-eminent global power even though there were twice as many Americans sitting on more than 100 times as much arable land. Wall Street launched its own restructuring program, which refashioned the American business world, laying the foundation of the growth surge of the 1990s.
In World War II, this panic and overreaction landed the United States with control of Western Europe and the world’s oceans, while the response to Sputnik laid the groundwork for a military and economic expansion that won the Cold War. From the Vietnam effort came technology that allows U.S. military aircraft to bomb a target half a world away. Japanophobia made the American economy radically more efficient, so that when the Cold War ended and the United States took Japan to task for its trade policies, the Americans enjoyed the 1990s boom while direct competition with leaner and meaner American firms triggered Japan’s post-Cold War economic collapse.

Land, Labor and Capital

All economic activity is fueled — and limited — by the availability of three things: land, labor and capital. All three factors indicate that the United States has decades of growth ahead of it, especially when compared to other powers.
Land
The United States is the least densely populated of the major global economies in terms of population per unit of usable land (Russia, Canada and Australia may be less densely populated, but most of Siberia, the Canadian Shield and the Outback is useless). The cost of land — one of the three ingredients of any economic undertaking — is relatively low for Americans. Even ignoring lands that are either too cold or too mountainous to develop, the average population density of the United States is only 76 people per square kilometer, one-third less than Mexico and about one-quarter that of Germany or China.

 

And it is not as if the space available is clustered in one part of the country, as is the case with Brazil’s southern interior region. Of the major American urban centers, only New Orleans and San Diego cannot expand in any direction. In fact, more than half of the 60 largest American metropolitan centers by population face expansion constraints in no direction: Dallas-Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, Phoenix, Minneapolis-St. Paul, St. Louis, Denver, Sacramento, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Orlando, Portland, San Antonio, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Columbus, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Austin, Providence, Nashville, Jacksonville, Memphis, Richmond, Hartford, Oklahoma City, Birmingham, Raleigh, Tulsa, Fresno and Omaha-Council Bluffs. Most of the remaining cities in the top 60 — such as Chicago or Baltimore — face only growth restrictions in the direction of the coast. The point is that the United States has considerable room to grow and American land values reflect that.
Labor
Demographically, the United States is the youngest and fastest growing of the major industrialized economies. At 37.1 years of age, the average American is younger than his German (43.1) or Russian (38.6) counterparts. While he is still older than the average Chinese (34.3), the margin is narrowing rapidly. The Chinese are aging faster than the population of any country in the world save Japan (the average Japanese is now 44.3 years old), and by 2020 the average Chinese will be only 18 months younger than the average American. The result within a generation will be massive qualitative and quantitative labor shortages everywhere in the developed world (and in some parts of the developing world) except the United States.
The relative youth of Americans has three causes, two of which have their roots in the United States’ history as a settler state and one of which is based solely on the United States’ proximity to Mexico. First, since the founding populations of the United States are from somewhere else, they tended to arrive younger than the average age of populations of the rest of the developed world. This gave the United States — and the other settler states — a demographic advantage from the very beginning.
Second, settler societies have relatively malleable identities, which are considerably more open to redefinition and extension to new groups than their Old World counterparts. In most nation-states, the dominant ethnicity must choose to accept someone as one of the group, with birth in the state itself — and even multi-generational citizenship — not necessarily serving as sufficient basis for inclusion. France is an excellent case in point, where North Africans who have been living in the Paris region for generations still are not considered fully “French.” Settler societies approach the problem from the opposite direction. Identity is chosen rather than granted, so someone who relocates to a settler state and declares himself a national is for the most part allowed to do so. This hardly means that racism does not exist, but for the most part there is a national acceptance of the multicultural nature of the population, if not the polity. Consequently, settler states are able to integrate far larger immigrant populations more quickly than more established nationalities.
Yet Canada and Australia — two other settler states — do not boast as young a population as the United States. The reason lies entirely within the American geography. Australia shares no land borders with immigrant sources. Canada’s sole land border is with the United States, a destination for immigrants rather than a large-scale source.
But the United States has Mexico, and through it Central America. Any immigrants who arrive in Australia must arrive by aircraft or boat, a process that requires more capital to undertake in the first place and allows for more screening at the point of destination — making such immigrants older and fewer. In contrast, even with recent upgrades, the Mexican border is very porous. While estimates vary greatly, roughly half a million immigrants legally cross the United States’ southern border every year, and up to twice as many cross illegally. There are substantial benefits that make such immigration a net gain for the United States. The continual influx of labor keeps inflation tame at a time when labor shortages are increasingly the norm in the developed world (and are even beginning to be felt in China). The cost of American labor per unit of output has increased by a factor of 4.5 since 1970; in the United Kingdom the factor is 12.8.
The influx of younger workers also helps stabilize the American tax base. Legal immigrants collectively generate half a trillion dollars in income and pay taxes in proportion to it. Yet they will not draw upon the biggest line item in the U.S. federal budget — Social Security — unless they become citizens. Even then they will pay into the system for an average of 41 years, considering that the average Mexican immigrant is only 21 years old (according to the University of California) when he or she arrives. By comparison, the average legal immigrant — Mexican and otherwise — is 37 years old.
Even illegal immigrants are a considerable net gain to the system, despite the deleterious effects regarding crime and social-services costs. The impact on labor costs is similar to that of legal immigrants, but there is more. While the Mexican educational system obviously cannot compare to the American system, most Mexican immigrants do have at least some schooling. Educating a generation of workers is among the more expensive tasks in which a government can engage. Mexican immigrants have been at least partially pre-educated — a cost borne by the Mexican government — and yet the United States is the economy that reaps the benefits in terms of their labor output.
Taken together, all of these demographic and geographic factors give the United States not only the healthiest and most sustainable labor market in the developed world but also the ability to attract and assimilate even more workers.

Capital

As discussed previously, the United States is the most capital-rich location in the world, courtesy of its large concentration of useful waterways. However, it also boasts one of the lowest demands for capital. Its waterways lessen the need for artificial infrastructure, and North America’s benign security environment frees it of the need to maintain large standing militaries on its frontiers. A high supply of capital plus a low demand for capital has allowed the government to take a relatively hands-off approach to economic planning, or, in the parlance of economists, the United States has a laissez-faire economic system. The United States is the only one of the world’s major economies to have such a “natural” system regarding the use of capital — all others must take a far more hands-on approach.
  • Germany sits on the middle of the North European Plain and has no meaningful barriers separating it from the major powers to its east and west. It also has a split coastline that exposes it to different naval powers. So Germany developed a corporatist economic model that directly injects government planning into the boardroom, particularly where infrastructure is concerned.
  • France has three coasts to defend in addition to its exposure to Germany. So France has a mixed economic system in which the state has primacy over private enterprise, ensuring that the central government has sufficient resources to deal with the multitude of threats. An additional outcome of what has traditionally been a threat-heavy environment is that France has been forced to develop a diversely talented intelligence apparatus. As such, France’s intelligence network regularly steals technology — even from allies — to bolster its state-affiliated companies.
  • China’s heartland on the Yellow River is exposed to both the Eurasian steppe and the rugged subtropical zones of southern China, making the economic unification of the region dubious and exposing it to any power that can exercise naval domination of its shores. China captures all of its citizens’ savings to grant all its firms access to subsidized capital, in essence bribing its southern regions to be part of China.
In contrast, the concept of national planning is somewhat alien to Americans. Instead, financial resources are allowed largely to flow wherever the market decides they should go. In the mid-1800s, while the French were redirecting massive resources to internal defenses and Prussia was organizing the various German regional private-rail systems into a transnational whole, a leading economic debate in the United States was whether the federal government should build spurs off the National Road, a small project in comparison. The result of such a hands-off attitude was not simply low taxes but no standard income taxes until the 16th Amendment was adopted in 1913.
Such an attitude had a number of effects on the developing American economic system. First, because the resources of the federal government were traditionally so low, government did not engage in much corporate activity. The United States never developed the “state champions” that the Europeans and Asians developed as a matter of course with state assistance. So instead of a singular national champion in each industry, the Americans have several competing firms. As a result, American companies have tended to be much more efficient and productive than their foreign counterparts, which has facilitated not only more capital generation but also higher employment over the long term.
Consequently, Americans tend to be less comfortable with bailouts (if there are no state companies, then the state has less of an interest in, and means of, keeping troubled companies afloat). This makes surviving firms that much more efficient in the long run. It hardly means that bailouts do not happen, but they happen rarely, typically only at the nadir of economic cycles, and it is considered quite normal for businesses — even entire sectors — to close their doors.
Another effect of the hands-off attitude is that the United States has more of a business culture of smaller companies than larger ones. Because of the lack of state champions, there are few employers who are critical specifically because of their size. A large number of small firms tends to result in a more stable economic system because a few firms here and there can go out of business without overly damaging the economy as a whole. The best example of turnover in the American system is the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA). The DJIA has always been composed of the largest blue-chip corporations that, collectively, have been most representative of the American economic structure. The DJIA’s specific makeup changes as the U.S. economy changes. As of 2011, only one of its component corporations has been in the DJIA for the entirety of its 115-year history. In contrast, German majors such as Deutsche Bank, Siemens and Bayer have been at the pinnacle of the German corporate world since the mid-19th century, despite the massive devastation of Europe’s major wars.
Because the American river systems keep the costs of transport low and the supply of capital high, there are few barriers to entry for small firms, which was particularly the case during the United States’ formative period. Anyone from the East Coast who could afford a plow and some animals could head west and — via the maritime network — export their goods to the wider world. In more modern times, the disruption caused by the regular turnover of major firms produces many workers-turned-entrepreneurs who start their own businesses. American workers are about one-third as likely to work for a top 20 U.S. firm as a French worker is to work for a top 20 French firm.
The largest American private employer — Wal-Mart — is the exception to this rule. It employs 1.36 percent of U.S. workers, a proportion similar to the largest firms of other advanced industrial states. But the second largest private employer — UPS — employs only 0.268 percent of the American work force. To reach an equivalent proportion in France, one must go down the list to the country’s 32nd largest firm.
The U.S. laissez-faire economic model also results in a boom-and-bust economic cycle to a much greater degree than a planned system. When nothing but the market makes economic apportionment decisions, at the height of the cycle resources are often applied to projects that should have been avoided. (This may sound bad, but in a planned system such misapplication can happen at any point in the cycle.) During recessions, capital rigor is applied anew and the surviving firms become healthier while poorly run firms crash, resulting in spurts of unemployment. Such cyclical downturns are built into the American system. Consequently, Americans are more tolerant of economic change than many of their peers elsewhere, lowering the government’s need to intervene in market activity and encouraging the American workforce to retool and retrain itself for different pursuits. The result is high levels of social stability — even in bad times — and an increasingly more capable workforce.
Despite the boom/bust problems, the greatest advantage of a liberal capital model is that the market is far more efficient at allocating resources over the long term than any government. The result is a much greater — and more stable — rate of growth over time than any other economic model. While many of the East Asian economies have indeed outgrown the United States in relative terms, there are two factors that must be kept in mind. First, growth in East Asia is fast, but it is also a recent development. Over the course of its history, the United States has maintained a far faster growth rate than any country in East Asia. Second, the Asian growth period coincides with the Asian states gaining access to the U.S. market (largely via Bretton Woods) after U.S. security policy had removed the local hegemon — Japan — from military competition. In short, the growth of East Asian states — China included — has been dependent upon a economic and security framework that is not only far beyond their control, but wholly dependent upon how the Americans currently craft their strategic policy. Should the Americans change their minds, that framework — and the economic growth that comes from it — could well dissolve overnight.
The laissez-faire economic system is not the only way in which the American geography shapes the American economy. The United States also has a much more disassociated population structure than most of the rest of the world, developed and developing states both. As wealth expanded along American rivers, smallholders banded together to form small towns. The capital they jointly generated sowed the seeds of industrialization, typically on a local level. Population rapidly spread beyond the major port cities of the East Coast and developed multiple economic and political power centers throughout the country whose development was often funded with local capital. As large and powerful as New York, Baltimore and Boston were (and still are), they are balanced by Chicago, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Minneapolis.
Today, the United States has no fewer than 20 metropolitan areas with an excess of 2.5 million people, and only four of them — New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington-Baltimore — are in the East Coast core. In contrast, most major countries have a single, primary political and economic hub such as London, Tokyo, Moscow or Paris. In the United States, economic and political diversification has occurred within a greater whole, creating a system that has grown organically into a consumer market larger than the consumer markets of the rest of the world combined.
And despite its European origins, the United States is a creature of Asia as well. The United States is the only major country in the world that boasts not only significant port infrastructure on both the Atlantic and the Pacific but also uninterrupted infrastructure linking the two. This allows the United States to benefit from growth in and trade with both Pacific and Atlantic regions and partially insulates the United States when one or the other suffers a regional crash. At such times, not only can the United States engage in economic activity with the other region, but the pre-existing links ensure that the United States is the first choice for capital seeking a safe haven. Ironically, the United States benefits when these regions are growing and when they are struggling.
When all these factors are put together, it is clear how geography has nudged the United States toward a laissez-faire system that rewards efficiency and a political culture that encourages entrepreneurship. It is also clear how geography has created distributed economic centers, transportation corridors and a massive internal market and provided easy access to both of the world’s great trading basins. Byproducts of this are a culture that responds well to change and an economy characterized by stable, long-term growth without being dependent on external support. In short, there is a geographic basis for U.S. prosperity and power, and there is no geographic basis to expect this condition to change in the foreseeable future.

Current Context: Threats to the Imperatives

Normally, Stratfor closes its geopolitical monographs with a discussion of the major challenges the country in question faces. The United States is the only truly global power in the modern age, but there are a number of potential threats to American power (as Stratfor founder George Friedman outlined in his book “The Next 100 Years”). Indeed, over the next century, any number of regional powers — a reunified Germany, a reawakened Turkey, a revitalized Japan, a rising Brazil, a newly confident Mexico — may well attempt to challenge American power.
But rather than dwell on the far future, it is more instructive to focus on the challenges of today and the next few years. Stratfor now turns to challenges to the United States in the current global context, beginning with the least serious challenges and working toward the most vexing.
Afghanistan
The war in Afghanistan is not one that can be won in the conventional sense. A “victory” as Americans define it requires not only the military defeat of the opposing force but also the reshaping of the region so that it cannot threaten the United States again. This is impossible in Afghanistan because Afghanistan is more accurately perceived as a geographic region than a country. The middle of the region is a mountainous knot that extends east into the Himalayas. There are no navigable rivers and little arable land. The remaining U-shaped ring of flat land is not only arid but also split among multiple ethnic groups into eight population zones that, while somewhat discrete, have no firm geographic barriers separating them. This combination of factors predisposes the area to poverty and conflict, and that has been the region’s condition for nearly all of recorded history.
The United States launched the war in late 2001 to dislodge al Qaeda and prevent the region from being used as a base and recruitment center for it and similar jihadist groups. But since geography precludes the formation of any stable, unified or capable government in Afghanistan, these objectives can be met and maintained only so long as the United States stations tens of thousands of troops in the country.
Afghanistan indeed poses an indirect threat to the United States. Central control is so weak that non-state actors like al Qaeda will continue to use it as an operational center, and some of these groups undoubtedly hope to inflict harm upon the United States. But the United States is a long way away from Afghanistan, and such ideology does not often translate into intent and intent does not often translate into capacity. Even more important, Afghanistan’s labor, material and financial resources are so low that no power based in Afghanistan could ever directly challenge much less overthrow American power.
The American withdrawal strategy, therefore, is a simple one. Afghanistan cannot be beaten into shape, so the United States must maintain the ability to monitor the region and engage in occasional manhunts to protect its interests. This requires maintaining a base or two, not reinventing Afghanistan in America’s image as an advanced multiethnic democracy.
China
Most Americans perceive China as the single greatest threat to the American way of life, believing that with its large population and the size of its territory it is destined to overcome the United States first economically and then militarily. This perception is an echo of the Japanophobia of the 1980s and it has a very similar cause. Japan utterly lacked material resources. Economic growth for it meant bringing in resources from abroad, adding value to them, and exporting the resulting products to the wider world. Yet because very little of the process actually happened in Japan, the Japanese government had to find a means of making the country globally competitive.
Japan’s solution was to rework the country’s financial sector so that loans would be available at below-market rates for any firm willing to import raw materials, build products, export products and employ citizens. It did not matter if any of the activities were actually profitable, because the state ensured that such operations were indirectly subsidized by the financial system. More loans could always be attained. The system is not sustainable (eventually the ever-mounting tower of debt consumes all available capital), and in 1990 the Japanese economy finally collapsed under the weight of trillions of dollars of non-performing loans. The Japanese economy never recovered and in 2011 is roughly the same size as it was at the time of the crash 20 years before.
China, which faces regional and ethnic splits Japan does not, has copied the Japanese finance/export strategy as a means of both powering its development and holding a rather disparate country together. But the Chinese application of the strategy faces the same bad-debt problem that Japan’s did. Because of those regional and ethnic splits, however, when China’s command of this system fails as Japan’s did in the 1990s, China will face a societal breakdown in addition to an economic meltdown. Making matters worse, China’s largely unnavigable rivers and relatively poor natural ports mean that China lacks Japan’s natural capital-generation advantages and is saddled with the economic dead weight of its vast interior, home to some 800 million impoverished people. Consequently, China largely lacks the capacity to generate its own capital and its own technology on a large scale.
None of this is a surprise to Chinese leaders. They realize that China depends on the American-dominated seas for both receiving raw materials and shipping their products to global markets and are keenly aware that the most important of those markets is the United States. As such, they are willing to compromise on most issues, so long as the United States continues to allow freedom of the seas and an open market. China may bluster — seeing nationalism as a useful means of holding the regions of the country together — but it is not seeking a conflict with the United States. After all, the United States utterly controls the seas and the American market, and American security policy prevents the remilitarization of Japan. The pillars of recent Chinese success are made in America.
Iran
Iran is the world’s only successful mountain country. As such it is nearly impossible to invade and impossible for a foreign occupier to hold. Iran’s religious identity allows it considerable links to its Shiite co-religionists across the region, granting it significant influence in a number of sensitive locations. It also has sufficient military capacity to threaten (at least briefly) shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, through which roughly 40 percent of global maritime oil exports flow. All of this grants Iran considerable heft not just in regional but in international politics as well.
However, many of these factors work against Iran. Being a mountainous state means that a large infantry is required to keep the country’s various non-Persian ethnicities under control. Such a lopsided military structure has denied Iran the skill sets necessary to develop large armored or air arms in its military. So while Iran’s mountains and legions of infantry make it difficult to attack, the need for massive supplies for those infantry and their slow movement makes it extremely difficult for the Iranian military to operate beyond Iran’s core territories. Any invasion of Iraq, Kuwait or Saudi Arabia while American forces are in theater would require such forces — and their highly vulnerable supply convoys — to march across mostly open ground. In the parlance of the U.S. military, it would be a turkey shoot.
Mountainous regions also have painfully low capital-generation capacities, since there are no rivers to stimulate trade or large arable zones to generate food surpluses or encourage the development of cities, and any patches of land that are useful are separated from each other, so few economies of scale can be generated. This means that Iran, despite its vast energy complex, is one of the world’s poorer states, with a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of only $4,500. It remains a net importer of nearly every good imaginable, most notably food and gasoline. There is a positive in this for Iran — its paucity of economic development means that it does not participate in the Bretton Woods structure and can resist American economic pressure. But the fact remains that, with the exception of oil and the Shiite threat, Iran cannot reliably project power beyond its borders except in one place.
Unfortunately for the Americans, that place is Iraq, and it is not a location where Iran feels particularly pressured to compromise. Iran’s Shiite card allows Tehran to wield substantial influence with fully 60 percent of the Iraqi population. And since the intelligence apparatus that Iran uses to police its own population is equally good at penetrating its Shiite co-religionists in Iraq, Iran has long enjoyed better information on the Iraqis than the Americans have — even after eight years of American occupation.
It is in Iran’s interest for Iraq to be kept down. Once oil is removed from the equation, Mesopotamia is the most capital-rich location in the Middle East. While its two rivers are broadly unnavigable, they do reliably hydrate the land between them, making it the region’s traditional breadbasket. Historically, however, Iraq has proved time and again to be indefensible. Hostile powers dominate the mountains to the north and east, while the open land to the west allows powers in the Levant to penetrate its territory. The only solution that any power in Mesopotamia has ever developed that provided a modicum of security is to establish a national security state with as large a military as possible and then invade neighbors who may have designs upon it. More often than not, Persia has been the target of this strategy, and its most recent application resulted in the Iraq-Iran War of 1980-1988.
Simply put, Iran sees a historic opportunity to prevent Iraq from ever doing this to it again, while the United States is attempting to restore the regional balance of power so that Iraq can continue threatening Iran. It is not a dispute that leaves a great deal of room for compromise. Iran and the United States have been discussing for five years how they might reshape Iraq into a form that both can live with, likely one with just enough military heft to resist Iran but not so much that it could threaten Iran. If the two powers cannot agree, then the Americans will have an unpalatable choice to make: either remain responsible for Iraq’s security so long as Persian Gulf oil is an issue in international economic affairs or leave and risk Iran’s influence no longer stopping at the Iraq-Saudi Arabia border.
At the time of this writing, the Americans are attempting to disengage from Iraq while leaving a residual force of 10,000 to 25,000 troops in-country in order to hold Iran at bay. Iran’s influence in Iraq is very deep, however, and Tehran is pushing — perhaps successfully — to deny the Americans basing rights in an “independent” Iraq. If the Americans are forced out completely, then there will be little reason for the Iranians not to push their influence farther south into the Arabian Peninsula, at which point the Americans will have to decide whether control of so much of the world’s oil production in the hands of a single hostile power can be tolerated.
Russia
Russia faces no shortage of geographic obstacles to success — its wide-open borders invite invasion, its vast open spaces prevent it from achieving economies of scale, its lack of navigable rivers makes it poor, and its arid and cold climate reduces crop yields. Over the years, however, Russia has managed to turn many weaknesses into strengths.
It has consolidated political and economic forces to serve as tools of the central state, so that all of the nation’s power may be applied to whatever tasks may be at hand. This may be woefully inefficient and trigger periods of immense instability, but it is the only method Russia has yet experimented with that has granted it any security. Russia has even turned its lack of defensible borders to its advantage. Russia’s vast spaces mean that the only way it can secure its borders is to extend them, which puts Russia in command of numerous minorities well-aware that they are being used as speed bumps. To manage these peoples, Russia has developed the world’s most intrusive intelligence apparatus.
This centralization, combined with Russia’s physical location in the middle of the flat regions of northern Eurasia, makes the country a natural counterbalance to the United States and the state most likely to participate in an anti-American coalition. Not only does Russia’s location in the flatlands of Eurasia require it to expand outward to achieve security (thus making it a somewhat “continent-sized” power), its natural inclination is to dominate or ally with any major power it comes across. Due to its geographic disadvantages, Russia is not a country that can ever rest on its laurels, and its strategic need to expand makes it a natural American rival.
Unfortunately for the Americans, Russia is extremely resistant to American influence, whether that influence takes the form of enticement or pressure.
  • Russia’s lack of a merchant or maritime culture makes any Bretton Woods-related offers fall flat (even today Russia remains outside of the WTO).
  • Russia is the biggest state in its region, making it rather nonsensical (at least in the current context) for the United States to offer Russia any kind of military alliance, since there would be no one for Russia to ally against.
  • Russia’s maritime exposure is extremely truncated, with its populated regions adjacent only to the geographically pinched Baltic and Black seas. This insulates it from American naval power projection.
  • Even the traditional American strategy of using third parties to hem in foes does not work as well against Russia as it does against many others, since Russia’s intelligence network is more than up to the task of crippling or overthrowing hostile governments in its region (vividly demonstrated in Russia’s overturning of the Kremlin-opposed governments in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan in recent years).
This means that the only reliable American option for limiting Russian power is the same strategy that was used during the Cold War: direct emplacement of American military forces on the Russian periphery. But this is an option that has simply been unavailable for the past eight years. From mid-2003 until the beginning of 2011, the entirety of the U.S. military’s deployable land forces have been rotating into and out of Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving no flexibility to deal with a resurgence of Russian power. The American preoccupation with the Islamic world has allowed Russia a window of opportunity to recover from the Soviet collapse. Russia’s resurgence is an excellent lesson in the regenerative capacities of major states.
Merely 12 years ago, Russia was not even in complete control of its own territory, with an insurgency raging in Chechnya and many other regions exercising de facto sovereignty. National savings had either disappeared in the August 1998 ruble crisis or been looted by the oligarchs. During the American wars in the Islamic world, however, the Russians reorganized, recentralized and earned prodigious volumes of cash from commodity sales. Russia now has a stable budget and more than half a trillion dollars in the bank. Its internal wars have been smothered and it has re-assimilated, broken or at least cowed all of the former Soviet states. At present, Russia is even reaching out to Germany as a means of neutralizing American military partnerships with NATO states such as Poland and Romania, and it continues to bolster Iran as a means of keeping the United States bogged down in the Middle East.
Put simply, Russia is by far the country with the greatest capacity — and interest — to challenge American foreign policy goals. And considering its indefensible borders, its masses of subjugated non-Russian ethnicities and the American preference for hobbling large competitors, it is certainly the state with the most to lose.
The United States
The greatest threat to the United States is its own tendency to retreat from international events. America’s Founding Fathers warned the young country to not become entangled in foreign affairs — specifically European affairs — and such guidance served the United States well for the first 140 years of its existence.
But that advice has not been relevant to the American condition since 1916. Human history from roughly 1500 through 1898 revolved around the European experience and the struggle for dominance among European powers. In the collective minds of the founders, no good could come from the United States participating in those struggles. The distances were too long and the problems too intractable. A young United States could not hope to tip the balance of power, and besides, America’s interests — and challenges and problems — were much closer to home. The United States involved itself in European affairs only when European affairs involved themselves in the United States. Aside from events such as the Louisiana Purchase, the War of 1812 and small-scale executions of the Monroe Doctrine, Washington’s relations with Europe were cool and distant.
But in 1898 the Americans went to war with a European state, Spain, and consequently gained most of its overseas territories. Those territories were not limited to the Western Hemisphere, with the largest piece being the Philippines. From there the Americans participated in the age of imperialism just as enthusiastically as any European state. Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet steamed around the world, forcing Japan to open itself up to foreign influence and announcing to the world that the Americans were emerging as a major force. Once that happened, the United States lost the luxury of isolationism. The United States not only was emerging as the predominant military and economy of the Western Hemisphere, but its reach was going global. Its participation in World War I prevented a German victory, and by the end of World War II it was clear that the United States was one of only two powers that could appreciably impact events beyond its borders.
Such power did not — and often still does not — sit well with Americans. The formative settler experience ingrained in the American psyche that life should get better with every passing year and that military force plays little role in that improvement. After every major conflict from the American Revolution through World War I, the Americans largely decommissioned their military, seeing it as an unnecessary, morally distasteful expense; the thinking was that Americans did not need a major military to become who they were and that they should have one only when the need was dire. So after each conflict the Americans, for the most part, go home. The post-World War II era — the Cold War — is the only period in American history when disarmament did not happen after the conflict, largely because the Americans still saw themselves locked into a competition with the Soviet Union. And when that competition ended, the Americans did what they have done after every other conflict in their history: They started recalling their forces en masse.
At the time of this writing, the American wars in the Islamic world are nearly over. After 10 years of conflict, the United States is in the final stages of withdrawal from Iraq, and the Afghan drawdown has begun as well. While a small residual force may be left in one or both locations, by 2014 there will be at most one-tenth the number of American forces in the two locations combined as there were as recently as 2008.
This has two implications for the Americans and the wider world. First, the Americans are tired of war. They want to go home and shut the world out, and with the death of al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden on May 2, 2011, they feel that they have the opportunity to do so. Second, the American military is battle-weary. It needs to rest, recuperate and digest the lessons of the wars it has just fought, and American politicians are in a mood to allow it to do just that. But while the U.S. military is battle-weary, it is also battle-hardened, and alone among the world’s militaries it remains easily deployable. Three years from now the U.S. military will be ready once again to take on the world, but that is a topic to revisit three years from now.
Between now and then, potential American rivals will not be able to do anything they wish — American power is not evaporating — but they will have a relatively free hand to shape their neighborhoods. American air and sea power is no small consideration, but inveterate land powers can truly be countered and contained only by ground forces.
  • Russian power will consolidate and deepen its penetration into the borderlands of the Caucasus and Central Europe. While the Americans have been busy in the Islamic world, it has become readily apparent what the Russians can achieve when they are left alone for a few years. A U.S. isolationist impulse would allow the Russians to continue reworking their neighborhood and re-anchor themselves near the old Soviet empire’s external borders, places like the Carpathians, the Tian Shan Mountains and the Caucasus, and perhaps even excise NATO influence from the Baltic states. While the chances of a hot war are relatively low, Stratfor still lists Russia’s regeneration as the most problematic to the long-term American position because of the combination of Russia’s sheer size and the fact that it is — and will remain — fully nuclear armed.
  • Iranian power will seek to weaken the American position in the Persian Gulf. A full U.S. pullout would leave Iran the undisputed major power of the region, forcing other regional players to refigure their political calculus in dealing with Iran. Should that result in Iran achieving de facto control over the Gulf states — either by force or diplomacy — the United States would have little choice but to go back in and fight a much larger war than the one it just extracted itself from. Here the American impulse to shut out the world would have imminent, obvious and potentially profound consequences.
  • Stratfor does not see Chinese power continuing to expand in the economic sphere on a global scale. China suffers under an unstable financial and economic system that will collapse under its own weight regardless of what the United States does, so the United States turning introverted is not going to save China. But America’s desire to retreat behind the oceans will allow the Chinese drama to play itself out without any American nudging. China will collapse on its own — not America’s — schedule.
  • German power will creep back into the world as Berlin attempts to grow its economic domination of Europe into a political structure that will last for decades. The European debt crisis is a catastrophe by all definitions save one: It is enabling the Germans to use their superior financial position to force the various euro nations to surrender sovereignty to a centralized authority that Germany controls. Unlike the Russian regeneration, the German return is not nearly as robust, multi-vectored or certain. Nonetheless, the Germans are manipulating the debt crisis to achieve the European supremacy by diplomacy and the checkbook that they failed to secure during three centuries of military competition.
The Americans will resist gains made by these powers (and others), but so long as they are loath to re-commit ground forces, their efforts will be half-hearted. Unless a power directly threatens core U.S. interests — for example, an Iranian annexation of Iraq — American responses will be lackluster. By the time the Americans feel ready to re-engage, many of the processes will have been well established, raising the cost and lengthening the duration of the next round of American conflict with the rest of the world.”

 

The US Military’s Iran Connection?

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Military and IRAN

(Photo: KGL Logistics logo, Iran rials by Serova / Flickr)

“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT”

“The chairman of a key US military contractor in the Middle East was recently charged with multiple felonies in a major fraud, money laundering, and public corruption scheme.

Fraud and money laundering charges are only the latest in a string of KGL controversies in recent years.

There have been accusations of business ties to Iran in violation of US sanctions, and of systematic leaking of sealed and privileged federal court documents and other sensitive material to KGL’s Washington lawyers by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), the DoD component that oversees KGL’s US military contracts.

According to court papers in Kuwait, where the charges were filed, misappropriated investor money so far totals more than $160 million, a figure that could go higher, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has learned. The contractor, Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport, better known as KGL, is a publicly traded conglomerate with hundreds of millions of dollars in US military contracts. The criminal charges, together with other court documents and unreported revelations made by former executives of a KGL affiliate in a US lawsuit, involve KGL’s possible violation of US sanctions against Iran, and accusations of potentially illicit flows of cash from Russia, Iran, and Syria. Taken together, the allegations raise troubling questions about the American military’s heavy reliance on the firm.

The 2017 criminal indictment by Kuwaiti prosecutors points specifically to a KGL affiliate, called KGL Investments (KGLI), as the alleged nexus of fraud and money laundering inside company headquarters from 2007 to 2015.

Two former KGLI executives have also made related allegations in little-noticed 2013 sworn statements filed in a US lawsuit. One executive said he was told by his KGLI boss that Iran’s state-owned shipping company, sanctioned by the United States in 2008 as a nuclear proliferator, was “KGL’s vehicle to Iran and she further told me that…[it] made a lot of money for KGL.”

The executive also said, “Specifically, it appeared to me that KGLI was engaged in money laundering, and presenting false financial information to investors.”

A spokesperson for KGL told POGO that, “Notwithstanding the name, KGL Investments is neither owned nor controlled by any of the KGL group of companies. No KGL entity is a party to the legal proceedings in Kuwait. The Kuwait courts will address and resolve the disputed allegations.” KGL has long denied it has ever violated US sanctions in any way.

However, KGL Investments, KGL, and many of its subsidiaries are co-located in the same office building and directed, in part, by KGL’s just-indicted chairman, who is also a director of KGLI, according to court papers. The indictment says that a portion of the embezzled funds was channeled to KGL component companies.

Also targeted in the criminal complaint against KGL’s chairman is the Vice-Chairman of KGLI. Convictions could result in jail sentences. Court documents list victims of the alleged fraud as key government departments: Kuwait’s Public Institution for Social Security and its Ports Authority. The Ports Authority serves as a staging area for America’s ongoing military involvement in Iraq, and was indispensable to US Central Command (CENTCOM) in both the first and second Gulf Wars and occupation of Iraq.

According to an official in Kuwait, senior US military personnel at the American embassy and at Camp Arifjan, a large American base in Kuwait, were officially informed of the criminal indictment, and received written copies of the details. This was done, the official said, because the indictment targets executives related to a major US military contractor, allegedly involved in stealing from important Kuwaiti institutions. In a separate dispute, the Ports Authority recently banned KGL from operating in the port. It remained unclear what action, if any, the US military might take in response. Spokespersons at CENTCOM, the Department of Defense, and the US Army’s Contracting Command all declined to comment.

What Happens Next?

Further revelations about KGL or its subsidiaries, or a conviction of one or both of the indicted executives, could call into question the conglomerate’s grip on sizable US military contracts, and its eligibility to receive future awards. Beyond the large contracts it already has, KGL is currently in line for a sizable share of the new so-called Heavy Lift VIII (HL8), a $200 million transportation-services deal that the US military could assign by August. But there is the possibility the award could run afoul of federal contracting rules, which require ethical conduct and the avoidance of serious crimes.

According to contracting rules, officially known as the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR): “Purchases shall be made from, and contracts shall be awarded to, responsible prospective contractors only.” The FAR goes on to specify that, “… To be determined responsible, a prospective contractor must … have a satisfactory record of integrity and business ethics.” The regulation notes that contractors may be subject to debarment, suspension, or ineligibility if they are convicted or face a civil judgment for fraud, embezzlement, or “any other offense indicating a lack of business integrity or business honesty that seriously and directly affects the present responsibility of a Government contractor or subcontractor.”

In December, the Iran Sanctions Act was extended by 10 years on a 99-0 vote in the Senate, and a 419-1 vote in the House of Representations. The law states that the federal government “shall terminate a contract with such person or debar or suspend such person from eligibility for Federal contracts for a period of not less than 2 years” if they are found to have falsely certified to be in compliance with US sanctions against Iran.

KGL has repeatedly said it complied with provisions of the FAR.

A Hearing in Court

The criminal charges against KGL executives are the result of a four-year probe by Kuwait’s national security police. A court hearing on the matter in Kuwait was held on May 21, and another is scheduled for June 11. Among other records, POGO obtained a 21-page copy of a charge sheet dated May 9, 2017 (in Arabic).

The document names three defendants. Saed Dashti, 61, is chairman of KGL. Maria [Marsha] Lazareva, 44, is Vice-Chairman and Managing Director of KGLI, where Saed Dashti also serves as a director. A third defendant, Mohamed Al-Asfour, 71, is a senior public official: the executive vice-chairman of Kuwait’s Ports Authority.

Documents describe Lazareva as a Russian national. She was educated at the Wharton business school and public records associate her with real estate ownership in the Philadelphia area. According to news accounts, she showed up in court for the May 21 hearing, protesting her innocence.

The indictment says Dashti and Lazareva transferred large sums of investors’ money to their own private accounts and to a variety of KGL subsidiaries or related companies between 2007 and 2015. They did this, court documents say, partly using a network of financial institutions including the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) and one of its branches in the Cayman Islands. The bank also has branches in the United States, Kuwait, Asia, and other parts of the world. It’s unclear whether any of the allegedly embezzled funds passed at some point through the American financial system, which could trigger a US investigation.

A civil lawsuit involving KGL in Pennsylvania has brought to light accusations that could bear directly on the alleged fraud and money laundering scheme in Kuwait. The lawsuit, brought by KGL, charges the firm’s principal competitor, Agility Public Warehousing Co., with defaming KGL’s reputation by falsely claiming it had ties to Iran.

Saed Dashti and Marsha Lazareva

Saed Dashti and Marsha Lazareva (Source: Instagram)

 

Testimony in the Pennsylvania case—which is ongoing—includes declarations sworn in 2013 by a pair of former executives of KGL Investments, as part of Agility’s defense. Both said Dashti and Lazareva misinformed investors about KGLI’s financial condition, and one of the executives reported they had made repeated trips to Russia, Iran, and Syria in an apparent attempt to shore up KGLI’s faltering finances.

The two former KGLI executives testified that Dashti and Lazareva occupied offices on the same floors and hallways at KGL’s headquarters in Kuwait along with other subsidiaries.

One of the executives who testified, Ahmed Mabrouk, is an American citizen currently employed in the US financial industry. Court records identify him as former KGLI Vice-President Investments, a job where he testified he spent 18 months in 2008 and 2009 (a period covered by the 2017 criminal indictment) helping to analyze KGLI’s so-called “Port Fund,” an entity that invested in marine facilities around the Middle East and elsewhere. Under oath, Mabrouk said:

“Ms. Lazareva described to me the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) as KGL’s vehicle to Iran and she further told me that IRISL made a lot of money for KGL. When I was employed at KGLI, I observed Ms. Lazareva in her office reviewing documents related to IRISL, which bore the logo of IRISL, as well as the Iranian emblem.”

The declaration of Mabrouk, who could not be reached for comment, did not include documentary or other evidence to support his statement.

The United States, European Union (EU), and United Nations (UN) have all imposed sanctions on IRISL, Iran’s state-owned shipping company and a former joint-venture partner with KGL. Referring to US sanctions, applied in 2008, then-Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey explained:

“Not only does IRISL facilitate the transport of cargo for U.N. designated proliferators, it also falsifies documents and uses deceptive schemes to shroud its involvement in illicit commerce. IRISL’s actions are part of a broader pattern of deception and fabrication that Iran uses to advance its nuclear and missile programs.”

In his declaration, Mabrouk said, “I reviewed KGLI’s internal financial statements and observed that KGLI consistently had a negative cash flow.” Mabrouk also testified that he looked at “…financial statements that had been provided to investors. The financial statements provided to investors consistently, and in bad faith, misrepresented financial data regarding KGLI and its portfolio companies’ actual financial condition.”

Concern about KGLI’s financial condition, according to Mabrouk, caused KGLI’s banks to stop lending it money, creating a cash squeeze. And that led to “fundraising” trips by Dashti and Lazareva, he said:

“I understood that Ms. Lazareva and Saeeed (sic) Dashti took a number of trips on private planes to, among other places, Iran, Syria and Russia. Following each trip, I observed in KGLI’s internal financial statements an influx of funds into KGLI’s accounts. Ms. Lazareva told me and others at KGLI that these trips were for ‘fundraising;’ however, to my knowledge, such fundraising was not tied to any formalized investment process.”

Mabrouk did not say what, if anything, KGL Investments did in exchange for the money it allegedly received, or that he knew specifically that inflows had come from Iran, Syria, and Russia, even though he said the pair had travelled there.

Mabrouk did specify that Lazareva at one point asked him to travel to Syria to “review a potential investment in a port,” but he refused because that country was under US sanctions. Because Mabrouk also holds an Egyptian passport, he said Lazareva told him to use that travel document instead of an American passport. When he refused a second time, it set off a chain of events which, he said, led to his departure from the company.

Another KGLI executive also offered testimony in the same Pennsylvania court case. Wael Salam, an American citizen who worked for KGLI both in Kuwait and in Atlanta, said he was the firm’s Chief Investment Officer. He said both Dashti and Lazareva were directly and deeply involved in decision-making at the firm. He also reported that KGL funded KGLI with money from its subsidiaries as well as seeking contributions from outside investors.

Salam said that, from his perspective as an insider at the company, making profits did not appear to be KGLI’s principal goal, at least given its decision to sink its money and assets from its “Port Fund” into a variety of failing or near-bankrupt facilities in Egypt, Pakistan, and other countries.

Four years before the criminal indictments in Kuwait, Salam testified that he wanted to leave KGLI “…because I believed it was engaging in illicit activities … Specifically, it appeared to me that KGLI was engaged in money laundering, and presenting false financial information to investors.” His statements also show that Salam was trying to raise money to start his own investment fund after he left KGLI, which the company cited as one of the grounds for his dismissal. He could not be reached for comment.

Salam said Lazareva asked him on multiple occasions to visit Iran, sometimes without explanation and at other times to evaluate a port investment. When he refused because Iran was under US sanctions, she suggested that he, too, use his Egyptian passport. He again refused to go and, following a series of disputes and alleged high-pressure tactics by the company, was fired.

A KGL representative declined to comment to POGO on the testimony of Mabrouk or Salam.

More Ties to Iran

The Pennsylvania court case recently provided additional information about KGL’s relationship with Iran, a controversy that stretches back into the Obama Administration. As evidence emerged indicating possible sanctions violations by KGL in its joint ownership of ships with IRISL, Ashton Carter, then Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics and later Secretary of Defense, wrote to US lawmakers who had inquired about the situation.

In letters to Senators Claire McCaskill, Robert Menendez, Mark Kirk, Robert Bennett, and others in 2011, Carter wrote that DoD could find “no substantial information” that KGL had continuing ties to Iran that would prevent it from holding US military contracts. By that time, the company had publicly announced its decision to end all business dealings with Iran in compliance with US law.

Since then, however, as part of legal discovery in the Pennsylvania court case, KGL has divulged emails and documents, and offered testimony from one of its former executives that appear to show it did have business with IRISL—at a time when Under Secretary Carter was telling Congress just the opposite. At least that is the argument set forth in an extensively documented summary of KGL’s own internal records filed by KGL’s adversary in the Pennsylvania case. Among other things, the summary cites those KGL records showing that its joint venture with IRISL made “at least 63 financial transactions” with the Iranian shipper after US sanctions had been imposed. In another example from the summary, a former KGL executive, Allan Rosenberg, gave the court a statement describing how he set up a “ghost structure” email system that resulted in the concealment of KGL’s continuing business with the Iranian-owned company.

A KGL spokesperson declined to comment on the summary or on Rosenberg’s statement.

Airplane Parts for Iran?

In May last year, Fuad Dashti, a brother of the recently indicted Saed Dashti—both members of the wealthy Kuwaiti family that controls KGL—was arrested at San Francisco International Airport. He was charged with involvement in illegally selling aircraft parts to Iran, according to a senior US official, and brought to Washington, DC, apparently for questioning by the FBI. One official at the time described him as, “singing like a bird” while in US custody. Fuad Dashti has since been allowed to leave the United States and was photographed some months ago in Doha, Qatar. At the time of his arrest, a KGL spokesman told POGO that “the alleged conduct [of Fuad Dashti] does not involve KGL or any of its affiliates and that Mr. Fuad Dashti was not acting as a KGL employee or representative.”

However, Fuad Dashti maintains ongoing financial ties to KGL, and has been listed as a top executive and part owner of National Cleaning Company, which is partly owned by KGL. According to the recent indictment in Kuwait, Saed Dashti also owns a share of National Cleaning, though it is unclear whether misappropriated funds were diverted to the company. There was no reply to POGO’s repeated attempts to reach Fuad Dashti, including a message left at a California house where he is listed as owner.

Key Questions Remain

The criminal indictment of KGL’s chairman adds to a growing roster of unresolved issues swirling around the company and its role as a contractor with hundreds of millions of dollars in business with the US military. Questions surrounding the company’s possible financial ties to Iran, and even Syria and Russia, raise national security concerns at a time when those countries are actively engaged in confronting American interests.

America’s federal acquisition regulations require ethical conduct from companies and their leaders. The large body of evidence in Kuwait’s extensively documented fraud and money laundering case raises doubts whether that requirement is being met.

So, too, does the arrest of Fuad Dashti, long a key figure in KGL’s controlling dynasty, on charges of commercial dealings with Iran. Yet the US government has made virtually no public statements about the matter. The fact that KGL, as long ago as 2011 and perhaps earlier, has been the focus of a probe led by the FBI into its ties with Iran only adds to the doubts. Again, no result of that investigation has ever been made public. And the same is true of the US official response to a well-documented pattern of leaks to KGL’s Washington lawyers by the Defense Logistics Agency. Senior US officials have told POGO that the DoD’s Office of General Counsel and its Defense Criminal Investigative Service have looked at or been made aware of the matter. Yet neither has made a public statement about the issues.

Indeed, years of requests for information about KGL from agencies ranging from DoD to the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control have been met with incomplete answers and, on occasion, with apparently inaccurate information. Given that result, Congress needs to clear up what is going on with KGL and its huge government contracts, because federal agencies appear unable or unwilling to shed light on the issue, or credibly resolve it.

Given the new criminal charges lodged against KGL’s chairman, the American public needs to know whether the company is a responsible and deserving recipient of US taxpayer funds. To find out, Congress should look into what the FBI and other agencies have learned after years of investigating the company’s conduct, and inform the public of what it learns.

Of course KGL is not the only logistics contractor the US military could rely on. Its principal competitor, and one of the largest single US contractors in the Iraq war, is Agility Public Warehousing Company. Yet Agility, too, has faced its share legal problems: the Department of Justice recently settled criminal, civil, and administrative charges against it. In the criminal case, which began in 2009, DOJ sought hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation for alleged overcharging.  In the end, Agility was only required to “pay a maximum of $551…in restitution.” In the civil case, the company agreed to pay $95 million, ending its suspension and allowing it to bid once again on US government contracts.

Taken together, Agility’s recently resolved legal problems and the new criminal charges against KGL’s chairman highlight the need for Congress and the Defense Department to reevaluate a contracting framework that has made America’s military the captive of two giant companies in one of the most strategic parts of the globe, an area where US forces cannot operate without extensive logistical support. As an alternative to this dysfunctional system, Congress and the Defense Department should examine how to foster more competition by explicitly encouraging the Pentagon to make deals with a wider variety of market participants.”

http://www.pogo.org/our-work/articles/2017/us-top-militarys-iran-contracting.html

 

The Tiny, Cash-Strapped Agency at the Heart of the Iran Deal

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IAEA

“DEFENSE ONE”

“The nuclear-inspection regime in Iran is going to be expensive, among numerous other logistical, technical, and political challenges. Last year, the IAEA’s regular budget was just over $350 million.

That’s less than the budget of the San Diego police department. Of course, the IAEA’s budget funds not just inspections in Iran, but activities around the world.

In his public-relations blitz to defend the Iran nuclear deal, Barack Obama has repeatedly insisted that the agreement is not based on trust between Iran and the United States. “It’s not enough for us to trust when you say that you are only creating a peaceful nuclear program. You have to prove it to us,” he told Thomas Friedman of The New York Times. “And so this whole system that we built is not based on trust; it’s based on a verifiable mechanism, whereby every pathway that they have is shut off.”

The “verifiable mechanism” to which theU.S. president is referring consists ofinspections of Iranian nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). If the IAEAconfirms that Iran is abiding by the strictures of theJoint Plan of Action between the United States, China, Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Iran, then sanctions against Iran will be eased, potentially ushering in a new geopolitical era in the Middle East. If the IAEA detects Iranian cheating, those sanctions could be resurrected, endangering the elaborate framework to limit Iran’s nuclear program that negotiators constructed over the course of years.

This places a relatively small UN agency based in Vienna at the heart of one of the most important diplomatic breakthroughs in a generation. Is the IAEA up to the task?

The IAEA is often referred to in shorthand as the “UN nuclear watchdog,” but its profile is not exactly commensurate with the financial resources at its disposal. Like many UN agencies, theIAEA funds its operations through a combination of assessed and voluntary contributions from member states. Member states are assessed dues based on a scale pegged to each country’s gross national income. This funds what is known as the “regular budget,” which pays for things like weapons inspectors, safeguards, and administrative costs. The United States is the largest contributor to the IAEA, funding about 25 percent of the regular budget. Japan comes in second, at about 10 percent. The poorest member states generally pay less than 1 percent each. (On top of the regular budget is a $90-million Technical Cooperation Fund that is supported through voluntary contributions and mostly pays for development activities, including using nuclear technology to improve agricultural outcomes and supporting radiation therapy and other medical programs that rely on nuclear physics in the developing world.)

In a press conference on Tuesday, following the signing of the final accord, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano estimated that the Iran portfolio has cost his agency $1 million per month since November 2013, when Iran initially allowed limited inspection of certain sites as a condition to launch diplomatic talks. In the same press conference, Amano said it would take some time to budget the costs related to maintaining a pool of some 150 inspectors to deploy to Iran and monitor Iranian nuclear activities from afar.

The problem with all this is that IAEA member states have pressured the agency to rein in spending in recent years. A policy of “zero-real growth” imposed by the IAEA’s 35-member state Board of Governors has been in place for several budget cycles. In its 2015 budget report, the agency described a host of activities that it has undertaken to cut expenditures, even as the responsibilities placed on it by countries and international organizations have increased. These included, among other things, introducing a “paper smart” policy and optimizing “the use of technical and office supplies.”

No one should begrudge an office for being more judicious about using the copy machine. But the fact that the IAEA is touting cutting down on office supplies as a way to reduce spending suggests that the agency is operating under intense budgetary pressures.

In a speech last year, Amano pressed his case for more resources to carry out the IAEA’s activities around the world. “The number of nuclear facilities coming under IAEAsafeguards continues to grow steadily—by 12 percent in the past five years alone,” he said. “So does the amount of nuclear material to be safeguarded. It has risen by around 14 percent in that period. With 72 nuclear-power plants under construction, and many additional countries considering the introduction of nuclear power in the coming years, that trend looks very likely to continue.”

Still, despite these new duties, Amano admitted that he didn’t expect much relief. “Funding for the agency has not kept pace with growing demand for our services and is unlikely to do so in the coming years,” he said.

These funding challenges are not unique to the IAEA. They represent a UN-wide problem. Member states keep asking international bureaucrats to do more with less. While this may make sense from a fiduciary standpoint, it has potentially harmful real-world implications. Like the IAEA, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been under extreme pressure for several years to cut programs and spending. When the Ebola outbreak struck West Africa last year, the World Health Organization was tasked with leading a robust response. But because of budget cuts—amounting to $600 million since 2010—a hobbled WHO lacked the personnel and tools to meet those expectations.

UN Peacekeeping faces similar burdens. Today there are more than 100,000 blue helmets deployed to 16 missions worldwide—more than at anytime in UN history. The budget for UNPeacekeeping is about $7 billion. That’s a lot of money. But for comparison’s sake, it’s less than one-tenth of what the United States will spend in Afghanistan and in “overseas contingency operations” this year. UN peacekeepers in tough places like South Sudan or Mali routinely lack basic equipment, like helicopters, that would maximize their reach and effectiveness.

Given the high-profile nature of the Iran deal, the IAEA’s member states will likely be more willing than not to fund the extra expenditures required to implement the agreement. But at some point, this political will may fade. Unless countries allow the budgets of international organizations to expand with the increased responsibilities placed on them by those very same member states, these agencies may not be able to fulfill their promise. For the IAEA, that may mean a decreased ability to detect nuclear proliferation—in Iran and beyond.”

http://www.defenseone.com/politics/2015/07/tiny-cash-strapped-agency-heart-iran-deal/118162/?oref=defenseone_today_nl

U.S. Offers Billions in Arms to Ease Mideast’s Iran Anxiety

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Helicopter

Source: PRNewsFoto/Sikorsky Aircraft via Bloomberg

The price of Peace – Lining Corporate coffers with sales of killing equipment

“BLOOMBERG BUSINESS”

“The administration and Congress in May approved a $1.9 billion arms sale to Israel that analysts said probably was meant to offset Israeli objections to an Iran nuclear agreement. The sale included 3,000 Hellfire anti-armor missiles, 250 AIM-120C Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles, and 50 BLU-113 “bunker-buster” bombs.

Congress already has approved billions of dollars in pending arms contracts to the Gulf. The United Arab Emirates has one valued at $130 million for 1,100 laser-guided bombs, parts and logistics from Boeing and Raytheon.

The Saudi government may pursue a contract for as much as $1.9 billion in potential sales of 10 United Technologies Corp. Sikorsky MH-60R helicopters, radar and spare parts; another potential contract valued at as much as $1.75 billion is pending for as many as 202 Lockheed PAC-3 missiles and associated equipment.

While Gulf nations would like a “commitment that the United States would come running, what they can get is deeper cooperation, more integration and technology transfers,” said Hussein Ibish, a scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

New Deals?

Melissa Dalton, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the U.S. could speed up spending or offer new arms deals, invest more effort in improving Gulf cybersecurity for oil and other infrastructure and increase regional military exercises.

While gaining a qualitative military edge in the region wouldn’t be possible for Gulf states — that’s a privilege that U.S. law reserves for Israel — there are “a whole set of weapons systems, most of them defensive, that would be very reassuring,” Ibish said.

Facing defense budget pressure at home and competition from European companies attempting to capitalize on doubts about America’s reliability, U.S. contractors have reason to seize the opportunity.

American Reassurance

Saudi Arabia is already getting reassurances from Washington, said Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. The U.S. is providing the kingdom with intelligence and logistics support in its war against the Houthis in Yemen, where Saudi bombing and a sea blockade have led the United Nations to declare its highest-level humanitarian emergency.

“In my view, we’re doing that much more to keep them on board on the P5+1 issue than it is anything about Yemen,” Riedel said, referring to shorthand for the six powers negotiating with Iran. “I don’t think the United States has a real dog in the fight between the Houthis and the House of Saud.”

U.S. efforts to assuage Saudi Arabia also can be seen in the recent move to remove limits on security assistance to neighboring Bahrain, imposed because of a 2011 crackdown on public demonstrations and human rights violations. “While we do not think that the human rights situation in Bahrain is adequate,” according to a State Department statement, “Bahrain has made some meaningful progress.”

Connection or Not?

State Department spokesman John Kirby cautioned against linking that step and the Iran talks, saying on June 30 that there was “no connection to that whatsoever.”

“Certainly” there’s a connection, Riedel said. “Bahrain is a wholly owned satellite of the kingdom.”

Yiftah Shapir, who heads the Middle East Military Balance project at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies, said items such as the Hellfire missiles and bunker-buster bombs are often sold to Israel in separate deals. Given the timing, “there’s no doubt that packaging them all together in one sale” was “clearly linked to the Iran agreement,” he said.

There’s been no discussion between Israel and the U.S. about a possible post-deal package to ease Tel Aviv’s concerns, and it will take months to craft one, analysts said.

“That discussion will only take place when it’s clear this deal will not only be signed by Congress, but implemented and implemented successfully,” said Aaron David Miller, a vice president at the Wilson Center in Washington.

Israeli Requests

When that day comes, “there’s lots of things the Israelis might ask for,” said Michael Eisenstadt, a military analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, including help paying for V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft that Israel’s military recently had to delay for budget reasons.

“But none will assuage their concern short of” the U.S. Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a precision-guided, 30,000-pound bunker-buster bomb, and a possible delivery system, Eisenstadt said. He said he didn’t see the U.S. providing Israel with either the bomb or a delivery system.

Dalton of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said the U.S. could increase its intelligence-sharing with Israel and establish common “indications and warnings” to determine whether Iran is reneging on an agreement and to monitor regional threats such as operations by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Financial Aid

The U.S. could help with more financial aid so Israel can buy additional missile defense capability and more than the 33 Lockheed F-35 jets currently on contract, according to a Washington-based defense analyst who closely follows Israel and asked not to be identified discussing potential accommodations for the U.S. ally.

For more, read this QuickTake: Iran’s Nuclear Program

Riedel said he was skeptical that any offers will ease Israeli frustration. “I don’t know what the president does to buy off Bibi,” Riedel said, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “I don’t think he can.”

Instead, Riedel sees the Israeli prime minister taking his fight against the Iran deal to Congress. “That’s where the fight is going to be, and it’s going to be ugly,” he said.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-07-09/u-s-offers-billions-in-arms-to-ease-mideast-s-iran-deal-anxiety

WAR WEARY – DISINTERESTED AMERICA & ITS SOLDIERS

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oocities.org

Image: oocities.org

As the U.S. continues into a second decade of the war on terror, our citizens and our volunteer military are growing disinterested and weary respectively.

The Military Industrial Complex (MIC) continues to make grand strides in technology, spending billions on new air craft and naval vessels, cyber warfare tools and sensors, while we downsize the combat soldiers to stand in the job line or wait for admission to veterans’ hospitals.

CRITERIA FOR WINNING

“THE ATLANTIC”

“Although no one can agree on an exact figure, our dozen years of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and neighboring countries have cost at least $1.5 trillion. Yet from a strategic perspective, to say nothing of the human cost, most of these dollars might as well have been burned.

“At this point, it is incontrovertibly evident that the U.S. military failed to achieve any of its strategic goals in Iraq,” a former military intelligence officer named Jim Gourley wrote recently for Thomas E. Ricks’s blog, Best Defense. “Evaluated according to the goals set forth by our military leadership, the war ended in utter defeat for our forces.”

In 13 years of continuous combat under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the longest stretch of warfare in American history, U.S. forces have achieved one clear strategic success: the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Their many other tactical victories, from overthrowing Saddam Hussein to allying with Sunni tribal leaders to mounting a “surge” in Iraq, demonstrated great bravery and skill. But they brought no lasting stability to, nor advance of U.S. interests in, that part of the world.

When ISIS troops overran much of Iraq last year, the forces that laid down their weapons and fled before them were members of the same Iraqi national army that U.S. advisers had so expensively yet ineffectively trained for more than five years.”

The Tragedy of the American Military 

RISK ASSESSMENT

Our government has not considered the risks, the indigenous cultural impact, the expense and the sacrifices required to sustain the nation building that must occur after we invade countries in pursuit of perceived enemies and place the burden of governance on military personnel who are not equipped to deal with it or manage USAID contractors who have profit motives in mind and corruption as a regular practice.

“POGO”

“Cost-plus contracts have long been criticized by government watchdogs like the Project On Government Oversight and waste-conscious lawmakers. Most recently, incoming Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) bluntly stated that these contracts are “disgraceful” and should be banned.” Your Tax Dollars Defrauded  

THOSE WHO HAVE FOUGHT ASK GOOD QUESTIONS

‘NEW YORK TIMES”

“There are 26 veterans from the United States’ two most recent wars serving in the House and Senate. Many say their experience in Iraq and Afghanistan taught them that the American military cannot fix what is fundamentally a cultural and political issue: the inability of governments to thwart extremism within their own borders. Ted Lieu of California, said he would not support giving Mr. Obama the formal authority he had requested because, like many veterans, he finds it difficult to see how the conflict will ever end.

“The American military is an amazing force. We are very good at defeating the enemy, taking over territory, blowing things up,” said Mr. Lieu, who served in the Air Force and remains in the Air Force Reserve as a lieutenant colonel. “But America has traditionally been very bad at answering the next question, which is what do you do after that.”

Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now serving in Congress have emerged as some of the most important voices in the debate over whether to give President Obama a broad authorization for a military campaign against the Islamic State or something much more limiting.” Veterans in Congress Bring Rare Perspective

NO SKIN IN THE GAME

“THE ATLANTIC”

“A people untouched (or seemingly untouched) by war are far less likely to care about it,” Andrew Bacevich wrote in 2012. Bacevich himself fought in Vietnam; his son was killed in Iraq. “Persuaded that they have no skin in the game, they will permit the state to do whatever it wishes to do.”  The Tragedy of the American Military

BUYING OUR WAY OUT?

Foreign aid in the billions continues to the Middle East.  US weapons export sales have reached a crescendo, increasing by 31% to 94 countries. with the Middle East receiving the line share. US Arms Exports Increase 31% A single Weapon, the 1.4 Trillion dollar F-35 will soon account for 12% of our total national debt. The 1.4 $Trillion F-35 Aircraft

QUOTE BY ERIC PRINCE, EX- CEO BLACKWATER: “NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE”

“The world is a much more dangerous place, there is more radicalism, more countries that are melting down or approaching that state.”  At the same time, the Pentagon is under growing pressure to cut spending and the cost of the all-volunteer force keeps rising, Prince said. “The U.S. military has mastered the most expensive way to wage war, with a heavy expensive footprint.” Over the long run, the military might have to rely more on contractors, as it will become tougher to recruit service members. 

Prince cited recent statistics that 70 percent of the eligible population of prospective troops is unsuitable to serve in the military for various reasons such as obesity, lack of a high school education, drug use, criminal records or even excessive tattoos. In some cases, Prince said, it might make more sense to hire contractors.” What’s Eric Prince Been Up To?

QUESTIONS FOR THE READER: Did not the Roman Empire run into these issues when they outsourced their wars and went to the baths?

roman

Image: Photolibra

What makes us believe this worldwide war of attrition can continue indefinitely and that our younger generations are going to be willing to enlist and/or pay the bills? Can we insist our government representatives consider these factors and plan ahead? Future generations, their wealth, health and treasure will depend on our answers.

Netanyahu, Obama and the Geopolitics of Speeches

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timesof isreal.com                                                                 Image:  Timesofisreal.com

“STRATFOR – GEOPOLITICAL WEEKLY” – By George Friedman

“What does matter is that the United States, regardless of who is president, has to develop a new strategy in the region. This is the only option other than trying to occupy Syria and Iraq.

Israel, regardless of who is prime minister, does not want to be left as part of this system while the United States maintains ties with all the other players along with Israel. Israel doesn’t have the weight to block this strategy, and the United States has no alternative but to pursue it.”

This isn’t about Netanyahu and Obama, and both know it. It is about the reconfiguration of a region the United States cannot subdue and cannot leave. It is the essence of great power strategy: creating a balance of power in which the balancers are trapped into playing a role they don’t want.

It is not a perfect strategy, but it is the only one the United States has. Israel is not alone in not wanting this. Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia don’t want it, either. But geopolitics is indifferent to wishes. It understands only imperatives and constraints.

Let us begin with the obvious. First, this is a speech, and it is unlikely that Netanyahu could say anything new on the subject of Iran, given that he never stops talking about it. Second, everyone involved is grandstanding. They are politicians, and that’s what they do. Third, the idea that U.S.-Israeli relations can be shredded by a grandstanding speech is preposterous. If that’s all it takes, relations are already shredded.

Speeches aside, there is no question that U.S.-Israeli relations have been changing substantially since the end of the Cold War, and that change, arrested for a while after 9/11, has created distance and tension between the countries. Netanyahu’s speech is merely a symptom of the underlying reality. There are theatrics, there are personal animosities, but presidents and prime ministers come and go. What is important are the interests that bind or separate nations, and the interests of Israel and the United States have to some extent diverged. It is the divergence of interests we must focus on, particularly because there is a great deal of mythology around the U.S.-Israeli relationship created by advocates of a close relationship, opponents of the relationship, and foreign enemies of one or both countries.

Building the U.S.-Israeli Relationship

It is important to begin by understanding that the United States and Israel did not always have a close relationship. While the United States recognized Israel from the beginning, its relationship was cool until after the Six-Day War in 1967. When Israel, along with Britain and France, invaded Egypt in 1956, the United States demanded Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai and Gaza, and the Israelis complied. The United States provided no aid for Israel except for food aid given through a U.N. program that served many nations. The United States was not hostile to Israel, nor did it regard its relationship as crucial.

This began to change before the 1967 conflict, after pro-Soviet coups in Syria and Iraq by Baathist parties. Responding to this threat, the United States created a belt of surface-to-air missiles stretching from Saudi Arabia to Jordan and Israel in 1965. This was the first military aid given to Israel, and it was intended to be part of a system to block Soviet power. Until 1967, Israel’s weapons came primarily from France. Again, the United States had no objection to this relationship, nor was it a critical issue to Washington.

The Six-Day War changed this. After the conflict, the French, wanting to improve relations with the Arabs, cut off weapons sales to Israel. The United States saw Egypt become a Soviet naval and air base, along with Syria. This threatened the U.S. Sixth Fleet and other interests in the eastern Mediterranean. In particular, the United States was concerned about Turkey because the Bosporus in Soviet hands would open the door to a significant Soviet challenge in the Mediterranean and Southern Europe. Turkey was now threatened not only from the north but also from the south by Syria and Iraq. The Iranians, then U.S. allies, forced the Iraqis to face east rather than north. The Israelis forced the Syrians to focus south. Once the French pulled out of their relationship with Israel and the Soviets consolidated their positions in Egypt and Syria in the wake of the Six-Day War, the United States was forced into a different relationship with Israel.

It has been said that the 1967 war and later U.S. support for Israel triggered Arab anti-Americanism. It undoubtedly deepened anti-American sentiment among the Arabs, but it was not the trigger. Egypt became pro-Soviet in 1956 despite the U.S. intervention against Israel, while Syria and Iraq became pro-Soviet before the United States began sending military aid to Israel. But after 1967, the United States locked into a strategic relationship with Israel and became its primary source of military assistance. This support surged during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, with U.S. assistance rising from roughly 5 percent of Israeli gross domestic product to more than 20 percent a year later.

The United States was strategically dependent on Israel to maintain a balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean. But even during this period, the United States had competing strategic interests. For example, as part of encouraging a strategic reversal into the U.S. camp after the 1973 war, the United States negotiated an Israeli withdrawal from Sinai that the Israelis were extremely reluctant to do but could not avoid under U.S. pressure. Similarly, U.S. President Ronald Reagan opposed an Israeli invasion of Lebanon that reached Beirut, and the initial U.S. intervention in Lebanon was not against Arab elements but intended to block Israel. There was a strategic dependence on Israel, but it was never a simple relationship.

The Israelis’ national security requirements have always outstripped their resources. They had to have an outside patron. First it was the Soviets via Czechoslovakia, then France, then the United States. They could not afford to alienate the United States — the essential foundation of their national security — but neither could they simply comply with American wishes. For the United States, Israel was an important asset. It was far from the only important asset. The United States had to reconcile its support of Israel with its support of Saudi Arabia, as an example. Israel and the Saudis were part of an anti-Soviet coalition, but they had competing interests, shown when the United States sold airborne warning and control systems to the Saudis. The Israelis both needed the United States and chafed under the limitations Washington placed on them.

Post-Soviet Relations

The collapse of the Soviet Union destroyed the strategic foundation for the U.S.-Israeli relationship. There was no pressing reason to end it, but it began to evolve and diverge. The fall of the Soviet Union left Syria and Iraq without a patron. Egypt’s U.S.-equipped army, separated from Israel by a demilitarized Sinai and token American peacekeepers, posed no threat. Jordan was a key ally of Israel. The United States began seeing the Mediterranean and Middle East in totally different ways. Israel, for the first time since its founding, didn’t face any direct threat of attack. In addition, Israel’s economy surged, and U.S. aid, although it remained steady, became far less important to Israel than it was. In 2012, U.S. assistance ($2.9 billion) accounted for just more than 1 percent of Israel’s GDP.

Both countries had more room to maneuver than they’d had previously. They were no longer locked into a relationship with each other, and their relationship continued as much out of habit as out of interest. The United States had no interest in Israel creating settlements in the West Bank, but it wasn’t interested enough in stopping them to risk rupturing the relationship. The Israelis were no longer so dependent on the United States that they couldn’t risk its disapproval.

The United States and Israel drew together initially after 9/11. From the Israeli perspective, the attacks proved that the United States and Israel had a common interest against the Islamic world. The U.S. response evolved into a much more complex form, particularly as it became apparent that U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq were not going to pacify either country. The United States needed a strategy that would prevent jihadist attacks on the homeland, and that meant intelligence cooperation not only with the Israelis but also with Islamic countries hostile to Israel. This was the old problem. Israel wanted the United States focused on Israel as its main partner, but the United States had much wider and more complex relations to deal with in the region that required a more nuanced approach.

This is the root of the divergence on Iran. From Israel’s point of view, the Iranians pose an inherent threat regardless of how far along they are — or are not — with their nuclear program. Israel wants the United States aligned against Iran. Now, how close Tehran is to a nuclear weapon is an important question, but to Israel, however small the nuclear risk, it cannot be tolerated because Iran’s ideology makes it an existential threat.

The Iran Problem

From the American perspective, the main question about Iran is, assuming it is a threat, can it be destroyed militarily? The Iranians are not fools. They observed the ease with which the Israelis destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981. They buried theirs deep underground. It is therefore not clear, regardless of how far along it is or what its purpose is, that the United States could destroy Iran’s nuclear program from the air. It would require, at the very least, special operations on the ground, and failing that, military action beyond U.S. capabilities. Aside from the use of nuclear weapons, it is unclear that an attack on multiple hardened sites would work.

The Israelis are quite aware of these difficulties. Had it been possible to attack, and had the Israelis believed what they were saying, the Israelis would have attacked. The distances are great, but there are indications that countries closer to Iran and also interested in destroying Iran’s nuclear program would have allowed the use of their territories. Yet the Israelis did not attack.

The American position is that, lacking a viable military option and uncertain as to the status of Iran’s program, the only option is to induce Iran to curtail the program. Simply maintaining permanent sanctions does not end whatever program there is. Only an agreement with Iran trading the program for an end of sanctions would work. From the American point of view, the lack of a military option requires a negotiation. The Israeli position is that Iran cannot be trusted. The American position is that in that case, there are no options.

Behind this is a much deeper issue. Israel of course understands the American argument. What really frightens the Israelis is an emerging American strategy. Having failed to pacify Afghanistan or Iraq, the United States has come to the conclusion that wars of occupation are beyond American capacity. It is prepared to use air power and very limited ground forces in Iraq, for example. However, the United States does not see itself as having the option of bringing decisive force to bear.

An Intricate U.S. Strategy

Therefore, the United States has a double strategy emerging. The first layer is to keep its distance from major flare-ups in the region, providing support but making clear it will not be the one to take primary responsibility. As the situation on the ground deteriorates, the United States expects these conflicts to eventually compel regional powers to take responsibility. In the case of Syria and Iraq, for example, the chaos is on the border of Turkey. Let Turkey live with it, or let Turkey send its own troops in. If that happens, the United States will use limited force to support them. A similar dynamic is playing out with Jordan and the Gulf Cooperation Council states as Saudi Arabia tries to assume responsibility for Sunni Arab interests in the face of a U.S-Iranian entente. Importantly, this rapprochement with Iran is already happening against the Islamic State, which is an enemy of both the United States and Iran. I am not sure we would call what is happening collaboration, but there is certainly parallel play between Iran and the United States.

The second layer of this strategy is creating a balance of power. The United States wants regional powers to deal with issues that threaten their interests more than American interests. At the same time, the United States does not want any one country to dominate the region. Therefore, it is in the American interest to have multiple powers balancing each other. There are four such powers: Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Some collaborate, some are hostile, and some shift over time. The United States wants to get rid of Iran’s weapons, but it does not want to shatter the country. It is part of a pattern of regional responsibility and balance.

This is the heart of Israel’s problem. It has always been a pawn in U.S. strategy, but a vital pawn. In this emerging strategy, with multiple players balancing each other and the United States taking the minimum possible action to maintain the equilibrium, Israel finds itself in a complex relationship with three countries that it cannot be sure of managing by itself. By including Iran in this mix, the United States includes what Israel regards as an unpredictable element not solely because of the nuclear issue but because Iran’s influence stretches to Syria and Lebanon and imposes costs and threats Israel wants to avoid.

This has nothing to do with the personalities of Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu. The United States has shown it cannot pacify countries with available forces. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different outcome. If the United States is not involved on the ground in a conflict, then it becomes a problem for regional powers to handle. If the regional powers take the roles they must, they should balance against each other without a single regional hegemon emerging.

Israel does not want to be considered by the United States as one power among many. It is focused on the issue of a nuclear Iran, but it knows that there is no certainty that Iran’s nuclear facilities can be destroyed or that sanctions will cause the Iranians to abandon the nuclear program. What Israel fears is an entente between the United States and Iran and a system of relations in which U.S. support will not be automatic.

So a speech will be made. Obama and Netanyahu are supposed to dislike each other. Politicians are going to be elected and jockey for power. All of this is true, and none of it matters. ”

https://www.stratfor.com/weekly/netanyahu-obama-and-geopolitics-speeches?mc_cid=10e3de5ab6&mc_eid=84db5f029e

 

Veterans in Congress Bring Rare Perspective to Authorizing War

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Representative Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts, served in Iraq as a Marine.

“New York Times”

“There are 26 veterans from the United States’ two most recent wars serving in the House and Senate.

Many say their experience in Iraq and Afghanistan taught them that the American military cannot fix what is fundamentally a cultural and political issue: the inability of governments to thwart extremism within their own borders.

Ted Lieu of California, said he would not support giving Mr. Obama the formal authority he had requested because, like many veterans, he finds it difficult to see how the conflict will ever end.

“The American military is an amazing force. We are very good at defeating the enemy, taking over territory, blowing things up,” said Mr. Lieu, who served in the Air Force and remains in the Air Force Reserve as a lieutenant colonel. “But America has traditionally been very bad at answering the next question, which is what do you do after that.”

Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now serving in Congress have emerged as some of the most important voices in the debate over whether to give President Obama a broad authorization for a military campaign against the Islamic State or something much more limiting.

In other conflicts, Congress shaped military policy with a certain remove from the battlefield. But as lawmakers deliberate whether to give authority for a military operation to a president for the first time since 2002, there are 26 veterans from the United States’ two most recent wars serving in the House and Senate, according to the group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. To them, this fight is not a distant foreign conflict. They have an intimate understanding of battling the same kinds of deadly extremists.

“One of the reasons I ran for Congress was to make sure we didn’t repeat the mistakes of the past, of going into war without a clear strategy,” said Representative Tulsi Gabbard, Democrat of Hawaii and an Iraq war veteran.

As a member of a National Guard medical unit who was responsible for reviewing the previous day’s casualty list, she said, she wondered whether “the leaders of our country and those in positions of making these decisions really understand what the impacts of their decisions were.”

While Ms. Gabbard and other veterans agree that Congress should exercise its constitutional prerogative to authorize the commander in chief to engage in military action, their conflicting views on the scope of that authority reflect the larger complexities of the debate and the difficulty the House and Senate face in any effort to draft a compromise resolution.

Republicans, by and large, want to pass a broad resolution that would contain few if any limitations on the president’s ability to send forces wherever and whenever he believes he needs them. Democrats tend to support a more restricted resolution that would not open the door to another lengthy, sprawling conflict.

With the death or retirement of World War II veterans, the number of men and women in Congress who served in the military has been steadily declining. In the 1970s, roughly 70 percent of the Senate had military service, according to Donald A. Ritchie, the Senate historian. At the beginning of the current Congress, 101 members — or 19 percent — had served or were serving in the military, according to the Congressional Research Service. There is not a single member who served in World War II.

But the number of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan — and their influence — has been rising.

Three Republican senators — Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Dan Sullivan of Alaska, all veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq — were elected in November and now sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee. More than a dozen House lawmakers who are veterans of those conflicts, both Democrat and Republican, sit on the House Armed Services Committee.

“They understand it’s easy to go to war and it’s tough to end it, and they understand the long-term effects in a very different way,” said Paul Rieckhoff, the head of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “It’s especially important when the president himself is not a combat veteran.”

The veterans are raising questions that the Obama administration will have to answer about its military commitments abroad, from the precise role that ground troops should play to whether the three-year time frame that Mr. Obama has proposed for fighting the Islamic State is correct.

“If we just go in and solve their military problem, propping up the Iraqi military, I guarantee we’ll be back there solving it again three or four years down the road,” said Representative Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts, who served in the Marines in Iraq. A “diplomatic surge,” he added, would be a better strategy than sending in combat forces.

Representative Martha E. McSally, Republican of Arizona and a retired Air Force colonel, calls the fight against the Islamic State a “generational struggle” that will not be easily solved. But her concerns have led her to a different conclusion. She said she was likely to support the president’s request, as long as his authority would not be too limited.

“If you think we’re going to declare victory over Islamic extremism in three years, I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Ms. McSally said. “I’m not advocating that we start deploying large battalions over the Middle East, but we do want to make sure that the military can use all elements in any domain in order to meet our military objectives.”

Indeed, many Republicans with military service expressed their greatest anxiety about the language in the war authorization that would prohibit the use of “enduring offensive ground forces.”

“When we go to war, we want to give our troops every advantage on the battlefield,” said Representative Ryan Zinke, Republican of Montana and a retired commander at SEAL Team Six. “We don’t want to have another Benghazi, where you call and all of a sudden no one is answering on the other line.”

Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, served two tours in Iraq. An Air Force pilot who is currently in the Air National Guard Reserve, he said, “We have to ask ourselves what’s worse — the presence of American ground troops or the presence of ISIS.”

Representative Ruben Gallego, Democrat of Arizona and a member of the Marine Reserve, was deployed to Iraq in 2005. He said his experience clearing insurgents from cities — only to have them return once his unit had moved on — had made him reluctant to send ground troops, because he worries about the United States again being forced to “clean up messes.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/18/us/bringing-a-rare-perspective-to-authorizing-war.html?_r=0