Friday, August 29, 2014

Your strategy was wrong, Mr. President

by Jeff Jacoby

In a TV interview this week, John McCain offered President Obama some sound, if difficult, advice.

"Mr. President," the Arizona senator said, "don't be ashamed of re-evaluating your view of the role of the United States in the world."

President Obama discussed the situation in Iraq at the White House on Aug. 9 before leaving for Martha's Vineyard.

No one likes to admit having been wrong on a fundamental issue. For an American president, few things can be more difficult. When you are invested with tremendous power and prestige because you persuaded tens of millions of citizens to raise you to the highest office in the land, acknowledging that you blundered doesn't come easy. All the more so when the blunder goes to the very core of your strategy for leadership.

Obama's foreign policy is in a shambles. Nearly six years into a presidency whose approach to the world has been grounded in American retrenchment, "leading from behind," deference to multinational organizations, and rejection of military solutions, the world has become a much more dangerous place. Exhibit A, of course, is Iraq, where Obama was not only adamant that all US troops must be withdrawn, but boasted — over and over and over — that he had kept his promise.

It is clear now that America's disengagement from Iraq, coupled with Obama's unwillingness to aid moderates in the Syrian civil war, created a vacuum that the vicious jihadists of ISIS readily filled. Their self-proclaimed caliphate now rules an estimated 35,000 square miles in Iraq and northern Syria. This month Obama reluctantly ordered targeted airstrikes near Irbil, and the Pentagon is considering potential bombing targets inside Syria. But the president still cannot bring himself to concede what more and more Americans grasp: The US retreat from global leadership was profoundly unwise.

Yet acknowledging error would be a mark of character. Other presidents have done it.

George W. Bush initially supported the view, advanced by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, that the US troop presence in Iraq would inflame the violent post-Saddam insurgency, and that the only strategy to reduce the bloodshed was to shrink the American military footprint. But in 2006, Bush reversed course. "It is clear that we need to change our strategy in Iraq," he told the nation in a televised address, announcing the deployment of 20,000 additional troops. The surge was deeply unpopular — Bush calls it "the toughest decision" of his presidency. But it defeated the insurgency and won the war.

When Yugoslavia erupted in the 1990s and Bosnians were being brutally attacked by the Serbs, Bill Clinton offered little more than lip service to the victims. Not only was he was unwilling to act directly to stop the Serbs' genocidal attacks, he wouldn't even end the arms embargo that was leaving Bosnians defenseless. An increase in military action, the administration said, would bring peace "not an inch closer."

But that attitude changed after the Serbian massacre of more than 7,000 Bosnian men and boys in the supposed "safe haven" of Srebrenica, and, later, a deadly attack on a marketplace in Sarajevo. After long resisting a military intervention, Clinton reversed course. The United States led a NATO bombing campaign that brought peace not just an inch closer, but ended the Bosnian War. Today, for all his flaws, Clinton is widely esteemed a hero to Bosnians.

Perhaps no modern president has been as forthright as Jimmy Carter in admitting that his approach to foreign policy was egregiously misguided.

Carter had come to office willing to believe the best of the Soviet Union and lecturing Americans on how they should get over their "inordinate fear of communism." The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 woke him up. Moscow's aggression "has made a more dramatic change in my opinion of what the Soviets' ultimate goals are," Carter confessed, than anything he had previously observed. Soon after, he announced the Carter Doctrine, declaring that the United States would use military force if necessary to defend its national interests in the Persian Gulf. He also ordered a military buildup, setting the stage for Ronald Reagan's further increases.

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln had no faith in Gen. Ulysses Grant's strategy for capturing the stronghold of Vicksburg, Miss. When Vicksburg fell, Lincoln wrote Grant a letter owning up to his misjudgment: "I now wish to make a personal acknowledgment," it ended, "that you were right and I was wrong."

The 44th president, who cites the 16th as a role model, could do with some of that candor. Obama's foreign policy didn't lead where he expected it to, and there is no shame in admitting it.



Sanctions Rebound To Hit Europeans

The article below is obviously isolationist -- but that was the stance of most Americans for a very long time (including founding fathers such as George Washington) and probably still is

The Financial Times commented on August 10 that in reaction to the chaos in Ukraine, “Western policy has become a mere knee-jerk escalation of sanctions”, and for once the FT has got it right about foreign affairs. The US and its disciples in Europe and Australia have imposed sanctions on Russia for its alleged interference in Ukraine, which has got nothing whatever to do with the US or anyone else. And Russia, understandably, is answering back.

In spite of there being no proof whatever produced by the West’s intercept spooks and other sleuths there is no doubt that Russia has been involved in Ukraine, finding out about and even trying to influence its policies – just as the US is spying on and trying to influence domestic policies in almost every country on this blighted globe and has recently given Ukraine its special attention.

The difference between the activities of the US and Russia is that Ukraine is right next door to Russia, and many of its eastern-located citizens are of Russian origin and speak Russian and think Russian and feel that their cultural roots are Russian and want to belong to Russia, just as their entire country did until 23 years ago.

On the other hand, Washington considers it has the God-given right to listen to everyone’s private deliberations and tell every nation in the world how to run its affairs and if necessary to enforce this by military intervention. The fact that such military fiddling proved utterly catastrophic in Vietnam, Cuba, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Libya is neither here nor there. The next frontier is Ukraine.

And poor decrepit leaderless old Britain, socially confused and morally collapsing, tries to combat what it sees as world chaos by following the example of its erratic mentor in applying sanctions on Russia, a country whose amity it would be well-advised to seek.

There is no border between the US or the UK and Ukraine. There is no military treaty binding them together. Ukraine is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It doesn’t belong to the European Union. It has no cultural connection with that Union, and its trade with the entire EU is tiny. It is, however, dependent on Russia for a great deal. And so is the EU, which has no intention whatever of letting Ukraine join it.

Russo-Ukrainian relations are a bilateral matter between Russia and Ukraine. But ever eager to indulge in provocative nose-poking, the US and Britain headed the Charge of the Spite Brigade and decided that an attractive means of trying to foul up the lives of large numbers of perfectly innocent people was imposition of sanctions, proven in history to be totally ineffective in making governments bow to the commands of the sanctioneers.

The West’s malevolent sanctions on Russia were not imposed because Russia had in any way affected the well-being, economic circumstances, territorial integrity or social structure of the United States or of any nation that jumped on the US sanctions’ bandwagon. There was no question of enforcing sanctions because Russia’s actions anywhere in the world had impacted adversely on one single citizen of any Western nation. But they were imposed, anyway, just to try to make things difficult for Moscow and to try to ratchet up tension between Russia and the West.

The sanctions have been an irritant to Moscow, but sanctions are usually more than that, and in the past have proved useless in persuading governments to act contrary to what they perceive as national interests – but they’ve been effective in destroying the lives of ordinary people who have done no harm to anyone.

The US and Britain, for example, imposed sanctions on Iraq for a decade before they invaded it in their lunatic foray which led to the current catastrophe in the region. Their vindictive restrictions inflicted hideous misery on ordinary citizens. But there were some principled people who protested about the appalling human crisis inflicted on Iraq by the US and its misguided ally.

Dennis Halliday, head of the United Nations’ humanitarian program in Iraq, resigned in protest against the criminal carnival, as did his successor, Hans von Sponeck. They made it clear that “the death of some 5-6,000 children a month is mostly due to contaminated water, lack of medicines and malnutrition. The US and UK governments’ delayed clearance of equipment and materials is responsible for this tragedy, not Baghdad.”

Halliday and von Sponeck were honorable men, but of course they were reviled by those who knew perfectly well what effect sanctions were having – because the sanctions had been planned that way. The British and American governments were told plainly that their prohibition on movement of lifesaving material was killing children. And the only action they took was to enforce sanctions even more energetically.

But we know that children don’t matter to war planners and their supporters. After all, when Madeleine Albright, the then US ambassador to the UN, was asked on television whether she considered the deaths of half a million Iraqi children a reasonable result of US sanctions, she replied with the pitiless, utterly heartless statement that “this is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it”.

If any people in official positions in America or Britain disagreed with her judgment that the deaths of half a million children were justified and acceptable, they kept very quiet about it. And such policy continues.

But there’s one enormous problem for the countries of the European Union in joining the US in imposing sanctions on Russia: rebounding retaliation by Moscow.

This is already affecting European economies, and especially the incomes of small producers of foodstuffs, the ordinary folk who always suffer in one way or another from the effects of lordly sanctions, none of which will inconvenience for one instant the high mucky-mucks of the US and other countries who decided to go down the sanctions route. They’ll be perfectly comfortable, and not one of them will suffer in the slightest from Russia’s riposte. But for their citizens it will be quite another matter, because many of them they will experience grave financial loss and considerable distress.

Russia decided to hit back against US and EU sanctions by barring some US and EU imports. And why shouldn’t it, after such gross provocation? But there’s a definite downside for innocent people. For example, Russia is the biggest market for French apples and pears, of which 1.5 million tonnes were expected to be exported this year. Now, thanks to Russia’s reply to the US/UK-sponsored embargo there are hundreds of small farmers in France who are going to have a miserable Christmas. The Scottish and Norwegian fishing industries are suffering appallingly because their exports to Russia were enormous. Now – nothing.

And there is now a curious lack of reporting about all this in the Western media. It’s a major story, but after the first couple of days of media interest in it suddenly became back page stuff in the print media, and blank-out on radio and television.

They’re not interested in Polish, Spanish, Dutch and Greek fruit-growers going bankrupt. Poland, for example, exports over a billion dollars-worth of food to Russia every year, and is suffering accordingly, and a Greek spokesman said that “Russia absorbed more than 60% of our peach exports and almost 90% of our strawberries,” as over 3,500 tonnes of peaches lay rotting in stores and trucks. Ten per cent of the EU’s annual agricultural exports went to Russia. Now – thanks to Moscow’s riposte to US-led imposition of sanctions, there won’t be any.

You might say that this is Russia’s fault. But why should Russia sit meekly and take punishment by the US and the EU that has been imposed by reason of spite?

The European agriculture commissioner, Romanian Dacian Ciolos – yearly salary 250,000 euros (US$333,000), untaxed and not including expenses – declared that Europe’s farmers will “reorient rapidly toward new markets and opportunities”. But just how this miracle is going to take place is not explained.

Mr. Ciolos, like President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron and all the other rich, scheming fatheads who began and are prolonging this vicious economic war, will not himself be affected in the tiniest way by any of their nonsense. It’s only the little people who suffer.

One particularly out-of-touch British politician, the Secretary of State for the Environment, said that Russia’s action “is totally unjustified and I share the concerns of Scotland’s fishing industry about the possible impact on their business”. She declared, presumably seriously, that the UK would “call on the European Commission to consider the merits of any potential World Trade Organization case to ensure the rules of international trade are upheld”, which ignores the fact that it was the European Commission that followed Washington in ensuring that the principles of international trade were shattered by their sanctions on Russia.

The US/EU sanctions of the new Cold War have dropped from pages and screens. But this doesn’t mean that the problem has gone away. Russia’s position is that “We have repeatedly said that Russia is not an advocate of the sanctions rhetoric and did not initiate it. But in the event that our partners [sic] continue their unconstructive and even destructive practices, additional measures are being worked out” in order to make it clear that imposition of sanctions on Russia by the West will continue to be entirely counterproductive.

No doubt the complacent position of Washington, London and Brussels will be that “We think the price is worth it.”



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