Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Despite Iraq Withdrawal, Greater Mideast Not Looking Good

While President Obama spins the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq as a sign of success of his policies in the region, the latest news from the Greater Middle East is far less encouraging.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

 

Inter Press Service

While President Barack Obama Monday touted the continuing U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq as a key marker in the success of his regional policies, the latest news from the Greater Middle East, as well as a new public opinion survey, is far less encouraging.

Not only was July the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the Taliban's ouster from power in late 2001, but the worst flooding in the critical frontier region of Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan in 80 years threatens to undo what progress the central government in Islamabad has had over the past year in regaining control of the area from the Pakistani Taliban and laying the groundwork for a U.S.-backed development plan.

At the same time, Obama has failed to persuade Iran to curb its nuclear programme despite his success in getting Russia and China to support a new round of sanctions at the U.N. Security Council and the European Union (EU) and other allies to impose much-stronger measures against Tehran.

Similarly, he has yet to make any discernible progress on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – a top foreign policy priority from the first days of his administration.

On the contrary, his failure in that respect – manifested, in particular, by Israel's defiance of his demands to stop all settlement activity in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem – has, in the view of many experts, inflicted serious damage on his credibility throughout the region.

Even in Iraq, where he will have reduced the U.S. military presence from some 144,000 when he took office to 50,000 by the end of this month, the situation hardly looks promising.

Nearly five months after parliamentary elections there and despite pressure by the recent visits of top U.S. officials, including Vice President Joseph Biden and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, Iraqi political leaders have proved unable to form a new government.

The protracted impasse has clearly stoked political and ethnic tensions that have in turn translated into a worrisome increase in violence. While the U.S. military has insisted that the monthly death toll is half of what it was one year ago, the Associated Press, which has independently tracked government statistics for several years, reported 535 killings last month, the deadliest month in two years.

If political paralysis, increased violence, an already-weak economy made yet weaker by a lack of investment and electricity, and growing concerns about fate on the on the part of Iraq's more powerful neighbours persist, Obama may be forced to reconsider his commitment – which he repeated Monday in a speech to the convention of the Disabled American Veterans – to withdraw the last U.S. troops from the country by the end of next year.

In any event, a new Gallup/USA Today poll released Monday suggested that U.S. voters are losing confidence in Obama's handling of both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Despite the fact that the Iraq withdrawal is taking place on schedule, only 41 percent of respondents said they approved of his performance there, the lowest percentage since he took office in January 2009.

His ratings on Afghanistan policy were even worse; only one-third of respondents voiced their approval, although a majority of 57 percent said they favoured a gradual withdrawal from that conflict. Obama has pledged to begin drawing down the nearly 100,000 U.S. troops deployed there currently in July next year.

"We will continue to face huge challenges in Afghanistan," Obama said in his speech to the veterans. "But it's important that the American people know that we are making progress, and we are focused on goals that are clear and achievable."

In recent days, senior administration officials have sought to reduce expectations for what Washington can achieve in Afghanistan. In a televised interview last Thursday, Biden declared that the U.S. did not intend to "nation-build" in Afghanistan, but only to defeat al Qaeda.

"We are in Afghanistan for one express purpose: &the al Qaeda that exists in those mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said.

In an interview on another network news show Sunday, Obama took much the same line. "What we're looking to do is difficult, very difficult, but it's a fairly modest goal, which is, don't allow terrorists to operate from this region; don't allow them to create big training camps and to plan attacks against the U.S. homeland with impunity."

Both statements followed a vote in the House of Representatives last week in which 102 Democrats opposed a bill to finance the war, which is currently costing the U.S. Treasury about 100 billion dollars a year. That was 70 more than voted against a similar measure last year and constituted nearly half of all Democrats in the lower chamber.

Wary of both the mounting death toll and the decline in public and Democratic support for the war, the administration appears to have decided to alter its strategy in Afghanistan from one based on classic counterinsurgency principles – to win the "hearts and minds" of Afghans by, among other things, protecting the population and providing it with better governance and public services – to counterterrorism, where the emphasis will be placed more on capturing or killing Taliban commanders while wooing local tribes and Taliban foot-soldiers with cash and other incentives.

The administration also appears increasingly open to possible power-sharing negotiations with the Taliban, as has been advocated by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Meanwhile, however, the situation across the border in Pakistan is spurring growing concern in light of last weekend's record flooding that has killed at least 1,500 people, displaced more than one million others, and devastated areas around the country's northwestern border with Afghanistan, including the Swat Valley.

With prodding from the Obama administration, the area was retaken by the Pakistani army from the Pakistani Taliban after bitter fighting last year. Islamabad's reconstruction efforts have been widely criticised as slow and ineffective, fuelling anti-government sentiment in a key strategic region and possibly boosting the militants' standing with the population.

Now, much of the government's efforts – along with the infrastructure – have been washed away, and the army, which has for the last year been focused on regaining and retaining control of the region, is now being diverted to rescue and recovery operations.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Congress approved a five-year, 7.5-billion-dollar aid package for Pakistan, much of which is to be spent in the border areas affected by the flooding.

Jim Lobe is the Washington bureau chief of the Inter Press Service and a contributor to IPS Right Web (http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/). He blogs at http://www.lobelog.com/.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Jon Lerner is a conservative political strategist and top adviser to US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley. He was a key figure in the “Never Trump” Campaign, which appears to have led to his being ousted as Vice President Mike Pence’s national security adviser.


Pamela Geller is a controversial anti-Islam activist who has founded several “hate groups” and likes to repeat debunked myths, including about the alleged existence of “no-go” Muslim zones in Europe.


Max Boot, neoconservative military historian at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Trump and Russia: “At every turn Trump is undercutting the ‘get tough on Russia’ message because he just can’t help himself, he just loves Putin too much.”


Although overlooked by President Trump for cabinet post, Gingrich has tried to shape affairs in the administration, including by conspiring with government officials to “purge the State Department of staffers they viewed as insufficiently loyal” to the president.


Former Sen Mark Kirk (R-IL) is an advisor for United Against Nuclear Iran. He is an outspoken advocate for aggressive action against Iran and a fierce defender of right-wing Israeli policies.


A military historian, Kimberly Kagan heads the Institute for the Study of War, where she has promoted the continuation of U.S. war in Afghanistan.


A “non-partisan” policy institute that purports to defend democracies from “militant Islamism,” the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) is an influential base of hawkish advocacy on Middle East policy.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Other than the cynical political interests in Moscow and Tehran, there is no conceivable rationale for wanting Bashar al-Assad to stay in power. But the simple fact is, he has won the war. And while Donald Trump has reveled in positive press coverage of the recent attacks on the country, it is clear that they were little more than a symbolic act.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The reality is that the Assad regime is winning the Syrian civil war, and this matters far less to U.S. interests than it does to that regime or its allies in Russia and Iran, who see Syria as their strongest and most consistent entrée into the Arab world. Those incontrovertible facts undermine any notion of using U.S. military force as leverage to gain a better deal for the Syrian people.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

An effective rhetorical tool to normalize military build-ups is to characterize spending increases “modernization.”


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Pentagon has officially announced that that “long war” against terrorism is drawing to a close — even as many counterinsurgency conflicts  rage across the Greater Middle East — and a new long war has begun, a permanent campaign to contain China and Russia in Eurasia.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Revelations that data-consulting firm Cambridge Analytica used ill-gotten personal information from Facebook for the Trump campaign masks the more scandalous reality that the company is firmly ensconced in the U.S. military-industrial complex. It should come as no surprise then that the scandal has been linked to Erik Prince, co-founder of Blackwater.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

As the United States enters the second spring of the Trump era, it’s creeping ever closer to more war. McMaster and Mattis may have written the National Defense Strategy that over-hyped the threats on this planet, but Bolton and Pompeo will have the opportunity to address these inflated threats in the worst way possible: by force of arms.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

We meet Donald Trump in the media every hour of every day, which blots out much of the rest of the world and much of what’s meaningful in it.  Such largely unexamined, never-ending coverage of his doings represents a triumph of the first order both for him and for an American cult of personality.


RightWeb
share