Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Beware The Guns of August - The question in Washington is whether Trump is taking us into another mideastern war.

Robin Wright at the New Yorker asks Is Trump Yet Another U.S. President Provoking a War? I am going to cut right to the final paragraph.

The sense of foreboding is tangible, the threats from both sides are no longer rhetorical. Before the nuclear-deal negotiations began, in 2013, Washington was consumed with hyped talk of the United States or its allies bombing Iran. If the nuclear deal formally dies, talk of military confrontation may again fill both capitals—even if neither country wants it. “Make no mistake, we’re not seeking a fight with the Iranian regime,” McKenzie, the Centcom commander, said last week. “But we do have a military force that’s designed to be agile, adaptive, and prepared to respond to a variety of contingencies in the Middle East and around the world.” The problem, as U.S. history proves, is that the momentum of confrontation is harder to reverse with each escalatory step.

Let’s then start with that history in brief snippets.

The United States has a long history of provoking, instigating, or launching wars based on dubious, flimsy, or manufactured threats …

… In 1846, President James Polk justified the Mexican-American War by claiming that Mexico had invaded U.S. territory, at a time when the border was not yet settled. … Around fifteen hundred Americans died of battle injuries, and another ten thousand from illness.

… In 1898, the Spanish-American War was triggered by an explosion on the U.S.S. Maine, an American battleship docked in Havana Harbor. … [but] the battleship was destroyed by the spontaneous combustion of coal in a bunker next to ammunition. …

… The beginning of the Vietnam War was authorized by two now disputed incidents involving U.S. warships in the Gulf of Tonkin. In response, Congress authorized President Johnson, in 1964, to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.” The war dragged on for a decade, claiming the lives of fifty-seven thousand Americans and as many as a million Vietnamese fighters and civilians.

… In 1986, the Reagan Administration plotted to use U.S. military maneuvers off Libya’s coast to provoke Muammar Qaddafi into a showdown. The planning for Operation Prairie Fire, which deployed three aircraft carriers and thirty other warships, was months in the making. Before the Navy’s arrival, U.S. warplanes conducted missions skirting Libyan shore and air defenses—“poking them in the ribs” to “keep them on edge,” …

… The most egregious case was the U.S. invasion of Iraq, in 2003, which was based on bad intelligence that Baghdad had active weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. The repercussions are still playing out sixteen years (and more than four thousand American deaths) later. …

Today, the question in Washington—and surely in Tehran, too—is whether President Trump is making moves that will provoke, instigate, or inadvertently drag the United States into a war with Iran. …

On May 5th, a Sunday, the White House issued an unusual communiqué—from the national-security adviser, John Bolton, not the Pentagon—announcing that a battleship-carrier strike group, led by the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, and a bomber task force, including B–52s, were deploying off Iran’s coast. … Bolton, who was a key player behind the U.S. war in Iraq, advocated bombing Iran before he joined the Trump White House.

Iran is not blameless. For example:

Iran does, indeed, have a growing array of surrogates across the region. Lebanon’s Hezbollah—inspired, armed, and trained by Iran—is now the most powerful militia outside state control in the entire Middle East. In Syria, Tehran has mobilized Shiite allies from four countries—Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan—to supplement its own forces helping President Bashar al-Assad reassert control over his fractured nation. Tehran has reportedly shipped short-range missiles to allies by boat through the Persian Gulf and deployed kits in Syria that convert imprecise rockets into missiles with greater range, accuracy, and impact. The Islamic Republic supports several Shiite militias in Iraq under the umbrella of the country’s Popular Mobilization Forces, which emerged in 2014, with Iraqi government approval, to fight isis. The caliphate has fallen, but the P.M.F. remains a powerful and divisive militia in Iraq.

America’s longest war

While not predicated on manufactured threats, the Afghan war is an illustration of how slippery a slope is the march to war.

The New York Times editorial board reports on America’s longest war - The Unspeakable War The conflict in Afghanistan is going badly, and the Trump administration doesn’t want to talk about it. (h/t Sherry Moreau)

It’s easy to reach for metaphors to describe the war in Afghanistan — quagmire, money pit, a boulder that must be rolled up the Hindu Kush for eternity. …

Put another way, the American people are being kept more in the dark about the dismal state of the United States’ longest-running war, now in its 18th year.

The mission in Afghanistan has been long, deadly and badly in need of robust oversight. …

In the latest report, in addition to the updates not provided to the inspector general on the number of districts and people living under Taliban control, the following metrics were classified or otherwise kept from the public eye: the number of casualties suffered by Afghan security forces; performance assessments of the Afghan Army, police and other security organizations; all but general information about the operational readiness of the security forces; the number and readiness of the elite Special Mission Wing of the Afghan Air Force; and reports on the progress of anticorruption efforts by the Ministry of the Interior.

What was documented in the public report was alarming enough, … According to the inspector general’s report, enemy-initiated attacks during the winter rose considerably. The monthly average number of attacks, more than 2,000, was up 19 percent from last November through January, compared with the monthly average over the previous reporting period, ending in October. From December through the end of February, the number of Afghan military and security force casualties was 31 percent higher than a year earlier. The report also took grim note of the fact that Afghan government and international forces caused more civilian deaths during the quarter than anti-government forces did.

The least that the Trump administration can do is be more open and honest with the American public about the unvarnished reality of the situation in Afghanistan. (The Pentagon hasn’t held an on-camera briefing in nearly a year.) Americans may have given up hope of “winning” the war long ago. But that doesn’t mean the full public accounting should halt.

[Indeed, ]Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggested during a congressional hearing on Wednesday that the end was not in sight. “I think we will need to maintain a counterterrorism presence as long as an insurgency continues in Afghanistan,” General Dunford said.

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