Belmont Club

The Return of Reality

For wars that are supposed to be ending a lot of things are starting in Iran and Iraq. As the US plans its exit from Afghanistan and Iraq, another power plans its future there. “Iran’s elite military unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has transferred lethal new munitions to its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent months, according to senior U.S. officials, in a bid to accelerate the U.S. withdrawals from these countries.” Some US officials are using the Iranian buildup to argue for a slower withdrawal.

“I think we are likely to see these Iranian-backed groups continue to maintain high attack levels” as the exit date nears, Maj. Gen. James Buchanan, the U.S. military’s top spokesman in Iraq, said in an interview. “But they are not going to deter us from doing everything we can to help the Iraqi security forces.”

Iran is now pressuring Afghanistan to re-think the post-withdrawal presence of American bases there, while “Iraq has in recent years been a proxy battlefield for the U.S. and Iran. U.S. officials in Iraq said the Qods Force is training and arming three primary militias that have in recent months attacked U.S. and Iraqi forces.” Iran has denied shipping weapons,  but British forces intercepted a shipment of 122 mm rockets in Afghanistan, bigger than anything hitherto seen. And in a related development, following news that Pakistan had ordered the US drone base at Shamsi closed, the Pakistan Observer reports that drone attacks are now being launched from Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton advised Colonel Khadaffy to think about surrendering instead of threatening “swarm attacks” on the capitals of Europe. Khadaffy made the threat in a mass a rally to supporters.  She spoke as the African Union rejected the ICC arrest warrant on Khadaffy, saying they would not execute it.

In an address relayed to some 100,000 supporters in Tripoli’s Green Square on Friday, Gaddafi urged NATO to halt its bombing campaign or risk seeing Libyan fighters descend on Europe “like a swarm of locusts or bees.”

The ICC was not the only organization serving a process on persons not in custody. Iran announced it planned to arrest and try 26 US intelligence operatives in absentia. “Iranian officials claim to have the handles and descriptions of the Americans they say are involved in the alleged operation.”

Hillary Clinton chided Syria from Lithuania for failing to heed her advice to reform and warned Damascus that it would face increasingly organized opposition if it did not. Earlier there were reports that the US had a roadmap in which Assad could stay in place if “reforms” were implemented. Now the LA Times reports that the US has opened channels to the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, one of Assad’s primary opponents. The Heritage Foundation says the Arab Spring has turned into a “long hot summer” in Syria and Lebanon.  With arrest warrants issued against the Hezbollah for the assassination of Rafik Hariri, not only unrest in Syria but civil unrest in Lebanon is a distinct possibility.

The universal sheriff now appears to be the United States, which has picked up dead and wounded terrorists from a drone strike in Somalia, the 6th country in which drone operations are currently underway. “U.S. military forces landed in Somalia to retrieve the bodies of dead or wounded militants after a U.S. drone strike targeted a group of insurgents, Somalia’s defense minister said Friday.” It is unclear where the wounded militants will be taken. The Somali government is apparently out of the loop nor cares to be included. The drones may have flown from bases in the Seychelles, though this could not be confirmed.

Defense Minister Abdulhakim Mohamoud Haji Faqi called on the U.S. to carry out more airstrikes against the al-Qaida-linked militants, though he admitted that Somali officials appear not to have been informed about the June 23 operation near the southern coastal town of Kismayo beforehand.

“But we are not complaining about that. Absolutely not. We welcome it,” Faqi said. “We understand the U.S.’s need to quickly act on its intelligence on the ground. We urge the U.S. to continue its strikes against al-Shabab because if it keeps those strikes up, it will be easier for us to defeat al-Shabab.”

Meanwhile, in another country where drone operations are taking place, the AP reports that 50 Yemeni soldiers are missing in action after a clash with Islamic militants. “Dozens of Yemeni troops went missing after a battle with al-Qaida-linked militants at a sports stadium in the country’s increasingly lawless south, a military official said Saturday, describing a new setback for a weakened regime already facing an array of opponents.”

Events suggest that the administration attempts to spin away the existence of the War on Terror by banning the term or reducing it to law enforcement have finally failed. There is no more talk about trying Khalid Sheik Mohammed in Manhattan.  No Grand Bargain with Syria or Iran appears to be forthcoming.  To Afghanistan, Pakistan appears to have been added as a battlefield in Southwest Asia. The vaunted Middle East peace process has been replaced by the Arab Long Hot Summer.  Reality is breaking out all over. This takes place against a background of declining military budgets. The AP reports that even US veteran’s cemeteries in the Philippines are overgrown with weeds  from lack of funding. “Clark Veterans Cemetery was consigned to oblivion in 1991, when Mount Pinatubo’s gigantic eruption forced the U.S. to abandon the sprawling air base surrounding it. Retired U.S. soldiers, Marines and sailors volunteer to keep watch, relying on donations to try to maintain the grounds, but they lament that they’re helplessly short on funds to fix things, and that Washington is unwilling to help.”

President Obama had been counting on a peace dividend.  In announcing “a reduction of 33,000 troops in Afghanistan by September 2012, [the President] said it was ‘time to focus on nation-building at home'”. CBS News said it reflected the reality that “we just don’t have the money anymore”.  But given the actual expansion of the War on Terror under the Obama administration — an expansion in which there was never the closure of victory, only the continuation of mission creep — the commitments have expanded rather than diminished.  The potential costs are not falling, they are inexorably rising. By finishing nothing the President has continued everything. Now in the Summer of 2011 the administration it is facing the cumulative effects of its mistakes. It has turned the page not on the epilog, but on the prolog.

And now for lawfare where the defendants are not going to be terrorist suspects but the administration itself.  Karl Marx famously wrote, “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” He was was wrong. In the Obama administration’s case, the first appearance of lawfare was as farce, the second was  as tragedy.

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