Category Archives: War

The European Elections, Iran and the Refugee Problem

Here is a sampling of reasons we’ve been given so far for why the US might preemptively attack Iran: Bolton can’t sleep at night until he vanquishes the long standing bugaboo in Tehran, Iran can’t be trusted and are secretly building nukes (WMDs), Iran is suddenly a dangerous threat to our troops and interests in the region, the Saudis and Israelis are pulling the strings and Trump is willing do their dirty work, with flagging popularity both Trump and the military need a war. Perhaps the most plausible strategy, and hence rarely mentioned, posits a new “energy” containment policy aimed at a quickly emerging China (oil war).

There are likely elements of each informing the strategic planning of the war managers. Any theory constructed around oil is invariably partially on target when America starts saber rattling in the middle east. If war does break-out between the US and Iran, or rather if the US attacks Iran, it will likely begin under false pretenses of America’s design. The dispatching of 1500 more troops to the gulf appears to be an exercise in putting more troops in harm’s way, in the hope that some rogue element fires a mortar at them. Iran has a lot of nerve putting their country so close to our bases. In the event of war there is a possible side effect that few are talking about. More refugees.

The EU parliamentary elections are this weekend. From all accounts the nationalist and far-right candidates stand to make gains, putting them in the strongest position politically that they’ve enjoyed on that continent since the end of WWII. Anti-immigrant stances have been a big part of their arsenal. Framed within the 2008 global economic collapse and aftermath, refugees have been the single best performing stock on the world “political” market for the resurgent populist and nationalist movements. The bogeyman portrayal of displaced masses on the march soon to be pounding at the door has produced lucrative capital gains for the barking dogs who disparage them. Across the pond, the Great Director in the US has made it clear on abundant occasions that he does not value the lives of these people on par with those white and western.

The numbers tell a story. At the time of the Rwanda genocide in 1994 the post WWII peak of refugees had reached 20 million. In the years prior to the Afghan and Iraq wars it had declined to approximately 16 million. Then, in the aftermath of 9/11, havoc was unleashed on those countries. Since then, in fifteen years, the number has risen dramatically, currently cresting at around 65 million! If you plot those numbers alongside the global rise of the Right on a graph they closely mirror each other. It was a slower but steady stream for years, much less detectable, but the stories of backlash in places like Germany and Britain were always there, just beneath the headlines. Then Syria boiled over and exploded hundreds of thousands of refugees across borders, tens of thousands flooding into Europe en masse. And presto, Brexit.

9 Maps and Charts on the Global Refugee Crisis

This outcome, I’ll call it the refugee dividend, has been an unexpected boon for the fortunes of the populist nationalist resurgence. It is an easily chartable set of data points. We don’t know what the short-term outcome of a war between the US and Iran would be, although I suspect there will be no battlefield winners, there never are anymore, right? But we do know that a conflagration of that magnitude in the middle east might generate another wave of refugees.

Since the advent of strategic bombing from the air a primary target has always been civilians- Madrid, Guernica, Berlin, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Hanoi, Baghdad. For obvious reasons the bombers themselves go to great lengths to claim otherwise. In Iran, where they’ve already taken in close to a million refugees, there is no reason to think that won’t also be an objective. The strain of absorbing and caring for possibly millions more internally displaced people could lead to chaos in the streets. The pressure from which could conceivably “end”  the regime. In Europe, though less likely in the immediate, the addition of more refugees to the already numbing numbers worldwide will only strengthen the straw that could eventually break the camel’s back for the social democratic paradigm, dominant there since the end of World War II. We will find out just how sturdy that camel is this weekend.

This seemingly endless passion play continues to unfold across the globe as scores more become displaced by war, climate change, crime and economic hardship. No theater has been immune- Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and, as we just witnessed, Australia. Surprise! In the EU, we’ve watched the critically acclaimed premiere of Poland’s authoritarian Law and Justice party, in Spain the new far-right Vox party is a promising new cadre of method actors, Italy’s Matteo Salvini is that country’s rising new star script writer, and the hard-line prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, recently hit the big time with his appearance at the Great Director’s playboy mansion, the White House. Marine Le Pen, the darling leading lady and daughter of the famous leading man of the previous generation, looks poised to capitalize on the angry zeitgeist in France’s European elections this weekend. Polls have her even with Macron (also right-of-center). Angela Merkel, the retiring town marshal, is on the her way out of Dodge. Germany is clearly centered in the rifle scope. To quote the Duke– “Out here, due process is a bullet.”

France 24: “during his talk-of-the-town stay in Paris, Steve Bannon provided insight into his larger mission —  “My theory is that political ideas move like capital markets. That’s why I spend so much time in Europe,” he told Le Parisien. “Trump wouldn’t have been elected president without Brexit. It gives an impetus. If populists score higher than 30 percent in the European elections, it will provide that impetus that will help Trump for the 2020 campaign.”

So even if the center holds it may be teetering. Contrary to public utterances, it seems more likely that these avenging angels don’t actually want to end the EU, no, they want to run it. As more and more refugees continue to arrive at the doorstep many of the current, moderate, EU ruling parties will be in a no-win situation. If they close the borders they play into the nationalists, and Donald Trump’s, hands. If they keep them open they risk throwing gasoline on the fire domestically. The far-right and nationalists are poised, just waiting for that glorious Dirty Harry moment– the licensed vigilantes towering over the sniveling liberals– “feeling lucky punks?” Either way it could be a 357 Magnum head shot. Orwellian indeed, but this movie will continue to be in world-wide release during the US elections, and taking that prize would be far better even than winning an academy award for the Great Director and his supporting cast.

UNHCR Figures

 

From the Grave – JFK to DT: Beware of the Bay of Boltons

President Trump may be coming around. Yesterday he said to Iran–“call me…let’s talk…we can make a deal…”
Was the Venezuela debacle effectively his Bay of Pigs moment (my analogy not his)? Orchestrated largely by Bolton and hawks, aided and abetted by false narratives presented by the mainstream media,* failed embarrassingly.

Let’s look at the timeline leading up to the Iran overture statement:
1) Some, if not all, of the so-called Iran intelligence was provided by Mossad – Israeli intelligence. It was not specific. Clearly Israel is not an objective observer.
2) Pompeo cancels Germany trip to go to Iraq – to reaffirm U.S. support for “a sovereign, independent” Iraq, free from the interference of neighboring Tehran. Pompeo meets with Iraq’s president and prime minister.
3) Pompeo cancels Greenland trip to speed back to US “amid rising tensions.”
4) Trump, already stung by the Venezuela swindle, says to Iran– “Call me, we’ll make a deal”- off the cuff? – a signal to Bolton that the gig is up?
Question: what did the Iraqi’s tell Pompeo— maybe something like “we have no sovereignty independent from Iran- our forces failed against ISIS, it was the Iranian backed forces – Badr, Quds, Mahdi – that succeeded. If you try this who will have our back, and what about your back? The country may quickly descend into violent chaos…”

It was probably not a great night at the Bolton dinner table.


Watch: Trump Press Conference – Iran, “Call Me”

* FAIR.Org critique of Venezuela Coup coverage

FAIR.Org Distorting “Democracy” in Venezuela Coverage

Be seeing you….

Cambodia, Kent State and the Kissinger Question?

May 4. Tin soldiers and Nixon coming. One of my long-standing fantasies has been to ask Henry Kissinger: if you could have a do-over, would you still instruct Nixon to invade Cambodia? Of course I’d have to administer some sort of truth serum first….

In many ways the Vietnam war had begun to turn in our favor by 1970. Albeit a political victory, the Tet Offensive in early 1968 had been a military disaster for the Vietcong. Tet had been a controversial strategy, with heated arguments within the communist camp over whether the time was right to launch the third stage of Mao’s revolutionary warfare, large scale battle with the enemy. Much of the VC leadership opposed the idea, they had been having increasing success fighting a second stage guerrilla war. The Hanoi faction on the other hand was growing impatient. They knew their backers in Moscow and Peking wouldn’t stay in forever. But they were also also divided on tactics. For example, the great hero of the victory over the French at Dien Bien Phu, General Vo Nguyen Giap, a northerner, opposed the plan. But he was overruled, by Le Duan and Le Duc Tho, both southerners originally from South Vietnam. The decision was made to launch the sneak attack. They almost pulled it off militarily, but ultimately fell short. Thousands of the best VC warriors were killed. As a result the authority of their Northern leaders had eroded greatly in VC eyes. For their part, Hanoi had lost faith in the southerners, what was left of them, as surrogate fighters. By 1970 the VC was almost wiped out as a fighting force, and along with it went much of the tactical connection between the revolution and the villagers. The fish had been stripped from the water. The war was being fought primarily by NVA troops coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. But how long could they keep it up? In addition their de facto fifth column in the States, the anti-war movement, was fading. Peace talks were beginning to bear fruit for the first time. A negotiated settlement, what seemed like a pipe dream just a short time earlier, now seemed a real possibility. 

At home, as mentioned above, after years of marching, much of the anti-war movement had splintered. After turning out by the hundreds of thousands for protest events– Vietnam Day and the Teach-ins in 1965, the March on the Pentagon in 1967, Chicago 1968 and the National Moratorium in 1969– many had become demoralized by the lack of success and had gone home. Press and media coverage was also dissipating, the war was still raging in South Vietnam but it was no longer front page news. It seemed the Nation had decided to check out. Then suddenly, out of the blue it seemed, Nixon invaded Cambodia. It was like throwing gas on a fire that seemed to be burning out.

Here is what was lost at that moment, by that decision:

1) World Stage: the war was never really supported by the allies but many tacitly condoned it by looking the other way.* Throughout the 1960s America’s credibility steadily plummeted along with its fortunes on the battlefield. Our friends couldn’t reconcile what they were seeing on TV and reading in newspapers with what they were being told by American leadership. This optic had been a signature of the war domestically for years, US military press briefings were famously known as the five o’clock follies. Removed from the day-to-day relentlessness of incongruent images and statements, the allies were slower to come to the conclusion that they too were being taken for a ride. Next door the U.S. air force had been secretly bombing in Cambodia and Laos, while denying it publicly. The invasion of Cambodia in 1970, an explicit expansion into a so-called neutral country, pretty much jettisoned any credibility we had left. Ascendant since victory in WWII, we were now being labeled the bad guys. Ironically, it would be deals made with the enemies, Russia (SALT1) and China (1972 visit), not the allies, for which Nixon would end up being remembered. Those were master strokes indeed, and led to the end of the war, but we have never really fully recovered our prestige in the eyes of the world after our debacle in Vietnam. 

2) Vietnam: by 1970 North Vietnam’s benefactor nations, China and the USSR, were growing impatient with the seemingly endless war (remember the conflict really began way back in 1945 with the French). The war was beginning to become a political liability, especially for the Russians, who were already making overtures to the west to open dialogue on nuclear arms control. It had also become a money hole and both countries were growing tired of sending support personnel and materials at discounted rates. Ho had died about six months earlier and the pressure was on the North Vietnamese politburo to come to the peace table seriously. The invasion of Cambodia, its relative failure, and the political reaction to it back in the States, most famously at Kent State, immediately turned the situation back in the North’s favor. College campuses erupted across the country and protestors flooded back into the streets. Suddenly the North Vietnamese project had new legs as the Chinese and Russians watched the pictures of mayhem and discord in the heart of enemy territory . The time was again right to strike while the iron was hot. Each decided to renew the commitment to the cause. It would be another two and a half years before serious peace talks would resume.

3) Cambodia: Cambodia’s Prince Sihanouk had walked a tight rope for years to keep his country out of the war on his doorstep. Under the guise of neutrality, which really wasn’t, he had so far miraculously kept out of the line of fire. But to do it he had made a deal with the North Vietnamese communists to allow them to use bases in his country near the border with South Vietnam and transport war materials through his port, called Sihanoukville. In return the North promised to contain the burgeoning monstrosity growing within Cambodia’s borders, the Khmer Rouge. It is debatable how well they succeeded while they were there, but what happened after they left seems to indicate that the North Vietnamese troops had had a measure of success. Here’s how they left…

American generals, and pro-war pundits, had been calling for a Cambodian invasion for years. Because of the allowance by Sihanouk of Northern troops on his territory, in places like the Parrot’s Beak within quick striking distance of Saigon, they bellowed that it was not a fair fight. It’s the old “we had to fight with one arm tied behind our back” argument so popular with the revisionist crowd. They may have been right, but we were in someone else’s neighborhood, and fair doesn’t always enter in to the equation. At any rate, LBJ’s fear of condemnation by western allies and world opinion kept him within the lines. But he bowed out in 1968. Enter Nixon/Kissinger. 

In March 1970 Sihanouk was ousted in a coup by Lon Nol. The CIA’s role has never been totally revealed but at the very least they gave tacit consent to Lon Nol, ie we won’t do anything to stand in your way and we think it is a good idea. Sihanouk was gone, his country seized from him while on vacation. In the ensuing chaos, Lon Nol opened the door for a U.S. invasion. Nixon/Kissinger, motivated by the relentless urging from the Right, and a recent viewing of George C. Scott in Patton, pulled the trigger. The troops poured across the border on May 1, 1970 (ARVN had gone in the day before). In the end the operation was indecisive, several bases were captured but not the command base that was the object. But, from the long view of history, what did occur was the migration of the North Vietnam troops and bases across the border to relative safety in Laos. Thus removing a critical buffer to the rise of the Khmer Rouge. The vacuum was quickly filled with murderous thugs. The Americans maintained an embassy, an ambassador and military police for five more years in Phnom Penh. The threat of U.S. military retaliation kept the disease at bay, but it continued to grow, and kill, in the countryside, waiting for the chance to attack the heart. That chance came when the Americans evacuated, along with Saigon, in April 1975. Was the Cambodian genocide inevitable? One can’t really say for sure. One thing is clear though, the removal of the antibodies in 1970 allowed the cancer to grow unhindered. The Vietnamese would not return until 1979, when they came back to crush the Khmer Rouge and put an end to the killing fields. Nearly 2 million Cambodians died in that genocide.

4) The United States: when Nixon went on TV in prime-time on the night of April 30, with his bulldog persona and colorful battle maps, the country was blind-sided. Most people had no idea about the secret bombing that had been going on in Cambodia (and Laos). Just days before, Secretary of State William P. Rogers had testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee saying “the administration had no intentions…to escalate the war. We recognize that if we escalate and get involved in Cambodia with our ground troops that our whole program [Vietnamization] is defeated.” (1) What’s more, Secretary Rogers and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird were both opposed to any such operation. They urged that it would engender intense domestic opposition in the U.S. and might derail the ongoing peace negotiations in Paris. Both were allegedly castigated by Henry Kissinger for their lack of enthusiasm. It turned out both were right!

Those watching must have wondered what was going on. It was like Tet in reverse– in 1967 Westmoreland told the country that because of the escalation of troops and firepower we were on the path to victory, the boys will be home before you know it. Then all of a sudden came Tet, a well-coordinated Vietcong invasion. People watched the carnage on TV in their living rooms. A significant portion of the populace came to the conclusion that they were being bamboozled. It was the first big turning point in public opinion against the war. By 1970 the line from the war managers was that we were winding down, Nixon had reduced troop levels significantly, in fact he just recently announced the withdrawal of another 150,000 troops later in the year, the boys will be home before you know it, as winners. Then came Cambodia, a well-coordinated American invasion of a new country, an expansion? Bamboozled again. People watched the carnage on TV in their living rooms, only this time the killing was happening at home, on college campuses. The Kent State massacre, as it has come to be known, was the next crucial turning point in public opinion against the war. It took a while though, the original public reaction was strongly against the demonstrators. But over time the image of a student dead on the ground became one of the most lasting images of the war. Eventually even parents and grandparents in middle-America would turn (the war had come home- our kids are now being killed in Ohio!). Tragically, close to nine thousand more Americans would lose their lives before the nightmare finally ended in 1975.

The invasion of Cambodia turned out to be one of the costliest strategic errors in American 20th century foreign policy, not far below the decisions (by Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson) that got us into that quagmire in the first place. It led to unneeded suffering by many thousands of families in Asia– several hundred thousand Vietnamese soldiers and tens of thousands of civilians were yet to die on that May morning– and in America, including four young innocents in Kent Ohio.

*  Aside from small numbers from some neighboring asian nations, Australia and S. Korea were the only countries to send appreciable numbers of troops

(1) Lipsman, Samuel; Doyle, Edward (1983). The Vietnam Experience Fighting for Time. Boston Publishing Company)

Robert Motherwell: Elegies to the Spanish Republic

 

 

Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110 by Robert Motherwell, 1971, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Robert Motherwell’s Elegies to the Spanish Republic has been interpreted as the artist’s on-going personal expression of his belief “that a terrible death happened that should not be forgotten.” Motherwell was referring to the events of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The savage nature of that war—more than 700,000 killed, including the mass-executions of thousands of civilians—roused a legion of artists to action. Pablo Picasso’s famous painting Guernica (1937) expresses his outrage over the unfair nature of the conflict, specifically the bombing of defenseless civilians from the sky by the Generalissimo’s Nazi allies. That painting has become the enduring symbol of the war.

For Robert Motherwell, the war became a metaphor for all injustice. Elegies to the Spanish Republic (over 100 paintings completed between 1948 and 1967) is a commemoration of human courage in the face of terror and suffering. He saw the heroism of the defenders of the elected government in stark contrast to the duplicitous dealings of the fascist alliance that ultimately prevailed. To portray this visually Motherwell’s recurring theme is a sublime contemplation of life and death, equating to light and dark. The abstract concept common to the Elegies—an alternating pattern of oval shapes slotted between columnar forms—has been said to represent the dialectical nature of life itself, expressed through the juxtaposition of black against white—the colors of death and life. The Republic is evoked as a bull (the symbol of Spain), once strong and radiant, heartbreakingly butchered by Franco, now only a dark memory.