Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Africa Update -- Another Major Headquarters?

For those of you who don’t get Time magazine, the August 24 issue carried a story that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld planned on creating a tenth unified combatant command and the sixth geographic command. The geographical area of this new headquarters would be Africa.

Right now, the continent is overseen by three other commands. European Command is responsible for the “mainland” less Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, and Kenya, which fall within Central Command’s area and Madagascar, which falls within Pacific Command’s area. Presumably, Central Command would retain responsibility for all those countries in its present line up with the possible exception of Kenya, the only one that does not front on the west side of the Suez Canal-Red Sea-Gulf of Aden. European Command would be left with Europe, including Russia, and Israel.

Looking a little closer at Africa, Algeria’s Islamists seem to be taking a page from Hezbollah by becoming both a political and cultural movement. The transformation has been solidified by the fact that a six-month amnesty for the remaining anti-government combatants ended Monday.

Further east, Sudan has again refused to allow United Nations peacekeepers into Darfur despite a dramatic rise in violence in the province. Last Monday the UN Security Council met behind closed doors to discuss options. Also attending were representatives of the African Union, the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Khartoum declined to attend. The U.S. says that China and two African nations (Congo and Tanzania) reportedly do not see Sudan in the same light as the U.S. and this is slowing progress on getting a force into the region. Sudan says it is ready to deploy 10,500 of its own troops to the region in early January, but with the African Union force due to phase out by the end of September, that leaves a three-month gap – and Darfurans will not trust the government troops.

Elsewhere in the region, prosecutors at the International Criminal Court have brought charges against Thomas Lubanga, former head of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UCP) Hema ethnic militia that operated in the lawless northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo during that country’s long civil war. The charges relate to recruitment and training of children as young as ten to serve as soldiers in the UCP during the period of July 2002-December 2003. Prosecutors allege that Lubanga and his commanders instructed the child soldiers to kill any ethnic Lendu they encountered. The UCP was not the only militia to recruit or abduct children to fight as soldiers. One estimate is that there were as many as 30,000 child soldiers at the height of the DRC’s civil war.

The ICC also has outstanding warrants for Joseph Kony and four other senior officials of the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel faction from Uganda. However, Uganda’s President Yowen Museveni announced last Saturday that the LRC had agreed to abandon there hideouts in the wild northeast DRC- Uganda-south Sudan area and to go into two camps while negotiations on terms of an amnesty continue at Juba in southern Sudan.

Ostensibly, the LRA has been assured that they will be able to leave the two camps in the event that the negotiations break down. But that assumes that the LRA fighters will actually go into the camps in the first place –and perhaps whether or not Kony and his associates also enter the camps.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Dirkson was Right: It is Real Money

Most Pentagon watchers and fiscal hawks have long been aware of the military’s penchant for throwing everything but the kitchen sink into one or more “ classified projects” lines of the Defense Authorization and Defense Appropriation bills.

It’s bad enough that the ordinary citizen never finds out, even years and billions of dollars later, what these programs were. Increasingly, the men and women in Congress don’t know what is in a bill when they vote. They may not have taken the time to go to the secure areas to read details of the items authorized or funded in the “classified” line – assuming, of course, that special access is not required for the “classified” line. The Defense measures, both the bills and the accompanying “report” written by the committees with oversight of Defense spending, often are extremely long, prompting Members to rely on staffs to read through the bills and “flag” questionable provisions. On at least one recent occasion, a bill was called up to for debate and a vote – and enacted -- before the final version was available for Members to read.

The FY2007 Defense Authorization bill is currently in conference to reconcile those provisions that either were only in one bill or had different language or dollar amounts in the versions passed by each chamber. Title XV of the House legislation – Authorization For Increased Costs Due to Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom – includes a provision authorizing $50 billion as a “bridge” fund to pay for war costs in the first three to four months of the fiscal year. These funds would be available immediately upon enactment of the legislation and are in addition to the $67 billion already given the Pentagon in the FY2006 supplemental appropriation.

Near the bottom of the Summary Table of Authorizations is a Section titled “Other Programs” which are funded at $3,450,200,000 ($3.452 billion) or just under 7% of the bridge fund. Of that amount, $950,200,000 is for Defense Health Programs and the other $2,500,000.000 (5% of the bridge fund) is for Classified Programs.

A strange thing happens to this $2. 5 billion, however, when one turns to the House Report accompanying the actual legislation. When the report reaches “Section 1509 – Classified Programs,” it reads: “This section would authorize an additional $2,500.0 billion to the Department of Defense for classified programs.” That’s right, $2,500.0 billion, which is another way of writing $2.5 trillion.

Obviously (one hopes this is the case), a typist somewhere in the process hit a “b” when the correct letter was an “m.” But the presumed mistake recalled a complaint by the House budget committee chairman earlier in the week that the Pentagon was providing fewer and fewer details on the programs for which it is requesting money from Congress.

In related matters, the $50 billion bridge fund in the Defense Authorization bill has grown to $70 billion, and the Senate, which must complete work on the Defense Appropriation bill when it returns after Labor Day, has added $13.1 billion for war related costs. These expenditures are at odds with the majority sentiment of the U.S. public which is to reduce the U.S. military presence in Iraq without disengaging from assisting Iraqis reconstitute an Iraqi state that can stand on its own.

The basis for a government of, for, and by the people is the ability of the pubic to judge whether and to what extent both the Congress and the Executive represent the principles and values of the nation and translate these into policies and programs that are life-sustaining, compassionate, and life-enriching.

Accountability requires information, and information demands transparency. When there is so little of the latter that the direction of government cannot be ascertained, the people’s remedy is to replace those in the current government with others who will be open and accountable to the electorate.

And while I think of it, don’t bet the farm that the kitchen sink – or some of it anyway – isn’t in one of those classified programs.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Hessians are Back

The quote was straightforward: “the war in Iraq is over except for the dying.”

Of the more than 3, 500 Iraqis killed in July of this year, 2,100 were found in Baghdad and 77 percent died as a result of “sectarian” violence, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials. In response, the Pentagon increased the U.S. troop strength by 12,000 by committing the rest of the in-theater reserves, delaying the departure of some units while rotating in other units on schedule. Most of the increased numbers reportedly were sent to Baghdad in an attempt, in conjunction with Iraqi army units, to cut the fatality rate.

July also saw a near doubling, compared to January 2006, of the number of attacks by insurgents aimed at U.S. and Iraqi security personnel. The January total was 1,454 while the July figure hit 2,625.

U.S. fatalities in Iraq for July dropped to 44 from 61 in June, but with six days to go in August, and 41 dead to date this month, August will be higher. Similarly, Iraqi civilian (628) and security force (148) fatalities reported are lower, but these statistics may not include fatalities outside of Baghdad.

So far, 2006, which is supposed to be the Year of Transition in Iraq, is anything but. That may start to change in September when Congress returns. The first order of business will be the Defense authorization and Defense Appropriations bills for the next fiscal year starting October 1. The authorization bill is being reconciled in conference, The Senate has to complete work on the appropriations bill, which then will go to conference with the House. Going into the conference committees, three of the four versions will have language barring construction of permanent bases. Getting this language in either of the final bills that emerge from conference would be a transitional step – a small one, admittedly – and mark a psychological departure from the mindset that launched this war.

Meanwhile, next-door is the forgotten war in Afghanistan. There, U.S. fatalities for the year stand at 74 and are on course to exceed last year’s total of 99. Coalition fatalities already are a third higher at 45 than the count for the whole of last year. The number of Afghans killed still is largely unreported or is underreported in the western press.

Back home, as noted last Wednesday, the Marine Corps has received authorization to call up from the Individual Ready Reserve 2,500 Marines for tours of 12-18 months because of a lack of volunteers to fill critical skill vacancies in deploying units.

Now it also seems that the administration is trying quietly to change the contracting rules so that the Pentagon can hire what are, for all intents and purposes, mercenaries. This would, to the best of my knowledge, be a first for the Pentagon – outsourcing combat. And if I remember the little legal instruction I had, it runs up against the Geneva Conventions.

But hey: the administration is trying to by-pass those too!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Civil War? What Civil War

For weeks now the uniformed military and their non-uniformed contemporaries in the Pentagon, the White House, and the State Department have been formulating and re-formulating denials that the situations in Afghanistan and especially in Iraq have deteriorated into civil war.

In early August, General John Abizaid, Central Command commander, told the Senate Armed Services committee that the sectarian violence in Iraq was as bad as he had ever seen it and if not stopped, “it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, concurred, but both generals declined to label the fighting a “civil war.”

At about the same time, the UK ambassador to Iraq warned that Iraq was “sliding toward civil war” and was in danger of splitting along ethnic lines. Then, just yesterday, the senior UK officer in Iraq, LTG Rob Fry, came up with a more nuanced description during a televised press briefing for Washington reporters: “ So what I think we have is something which is, at the very best, civil war in miniature, at the very best. But I don't think it actually even meets that definition.”

But then Fry added: “We can continue to conduct military operations in order to separate the two sides of the sectarian conflict.” Fry even objected to use of the term “civil war” because “It is inflammatory language. “It is implying that the situation is worse than it is. It therefore encourages – among other things – adventurous media reporting” [that] could encourage a certain degree of despondency in the political constituencies of both of our countries. But above all, I simply don’t think it’s an accurate statement of the situation that we're currently involved in.”

If I understand Fry, the reason for not describing as a civil war the sectarian-based violence that, by his own statement, requires the “conduct of military operations in order to SEPARATE THE TWO SIDES OF THE SECTARIAN CONFLICT,” is first and foemost because it could affect the morale of people in the UK and U.S.

Now my dictionary says that a civil war is an armed conflict between two different parties or two sections of a country or nation. So it can be but need not have to geographical, as the U.S. Civil War was (witness the splitting of West Virginia from Virginia) but less so in the English Civil War.

“Civil” may also describe an anti-clerical or laic faction opposed to a cleric or “holy order” – the Knights Templar come to mind. Moreover, sectarianism that flares into warfare between factions vyeing for control of a reliious faith differs only in the underlying reasons for waging war. Islam finds Shia versus Sunni, but Christianity has encountered the Orthodox-Latinate split, the Protestant-Roman Catholic divide with its series of religious wars, as well as the infamous Inquisition – an absolutist state within a state that waged war against both its own apostates and against Jews.

As to a war being a “mini-war,” for those killed it makes no difference whether the bloodlestting if full-blown or only mini-blown.

With 3,000 Iraqis being killed every month, it’s time to stop the semantics gamemanship. Ordinary Iraqis feel like they are in a civil war. And they are the ones whose definition ought to count.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Iraq: Policing instead of Warmaking?

Today’s New York Times (NYT) includes an opinion piece calling for legislation to create a paramilitary “police” force that would conduct counter-insurgency operations rather than sending regular combat troops into what are essentially civil conflicts.

The author justified his recommendation on the basis of the traditional mismatch between mission training for regular military forces – to kill people and destroy things – and the requirement to invest the time and the resources to develop enough trust with a population to help win over and maintain their allegiance to a government rather than to presumably undemocratic insurgents. However, because only the Department of Defense is designed to train and equip security-oriented units on a large scale, when it comes to the United States, the writer sees no alternative to placing paramilitary formations in the Department of Defense under the Assistant Secretary for Special Operations and Low Intensity Combat.

This is not the first call for the U.S. to participate in creating some sort of quasi-military organization that would engage in what George Bush, in the 2000 presidential campaign, derided as “nation building” – a mission to which he has committed the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq. With the post-Cold War explosion in the number of United Nations peacekeeping and even peace-making operations authorized by the Security Council, a growing number of national security experts in think tanks, in government, and in the UN have pushed for the creation of some type of standing organization (multinational) able to respond (or intervene) quickly to help prevent or tamp down armed conflict before it spirals out of control into a full blown insurgency (civil war). An alternative or complementary mission would assign to this standing organization many of the police advisory and training activities currently performed by international police volunteers working under the aegis of the UN.

What is different about the latest proposal is the creation of a unilateral U.S. paramilitary-style police force organized, equipped, and trained more along the lines of a super SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics) team or carabiniere augmented by special reconnaissance and surveillance platforms, interrogation and intelligence analysis capabilities, and air-transportable equipment to permit rapid movement after arrival in the country requesting assistance.

Curiously, the proposal suggests that, if the program were transparent and fully explained to the U.S. Congress and public, it would be accepted fully – and thus would be less controversial than the relatively similar Vietnam-era Phoenix program initially run by the CIA and later by the Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (COORDS) organization. (A few commentators have suggested integrating paramilitaries with Homeland Security, but considering the Department’s inability to handle the agencies it already has, this does not seem likely.)

As with any new concept, “field testing” by troops representing those types of units expected to implement the mandate of the organization would be required. But the overall mandate that the NYT opinion author suggests as necessary to defeat a nascent insurgency would have to include enforceable curbs on basic liberties such as unannounced or unprogrammed random searches of domiciles and businesses, mandatory national identity cards with photo and personal information, warrantless telephone taps and wireless intercepts, and unlimited preventive detention of “uncharged and unindicted” suspects

Even more problematical is the unambiguous assumption that those living in the strife-torn country will be willing to surrender their civil liberties – or perhaps their remaining civil rights, if any – to a government that might abrogate them arbitrarily or to a “liberator-turned-occupier.”

The problem, in one way, is quite straightforward. As the NYT writer notes, in Vietnam the Phoenix program was supposed to be secret (ostensibly to protect sources and methods), so officially it could not be disclosed to the U.S. public; to the South Vietnamese public, many of whom had first-hand experience and victims of “enforcers”; or (obviously) to the North Vietnamese, who also knew all about it. But as reports of atrocities began to leak out and the U.S. public realized they were the only ones in the dark, the program lost any possible support it might have had, even within the U.S. military.

This points to another drawback of unilateralism. It is all to easy, when any single nation reserves to itself the prerogative to decide when an emergent armed conflict is being waged to re-secure “inalienable rights” and the rule of law or is nothing more than an illegitimate effort to overthrow a regime attempting to guarantee these rights, for self-interest to subvert objectivity.

Thus in the first instance, it is not so much the make-up of the intervening force that must be determined but whether the emerging insurgency has legitimate grievances ignored by the regime or even made more onerous because of non-violent resistance by citizens. The nature of the ruling regime – either as victim or as oppressor – is a significant in determining the possible responses of the international community. Should the regime in question be the source of the injustice, it is unlikely that it would invite UN police – or any other quasi-international UN-led force – onto its territory.

Once the scope of the dispute and any special circumstances have been identified, the best reaction may be to do nothing other than to work with the two sides to find a non-violent resolution of outstanding grievances. What the antagonists might regard as a win-lose proposition can, through the participation of international or regional representatives, become less confrontational even to the point where both sides can point to sufficient “achievements” to defuse the immediate dispute.

One can envision situations where the availability of a civilian-led rapid-reaction paramilitary police force might be the difference between a skirmish and an all-out war. For these times when a “presence” could be mounted within one to two days and be sufficiently empowered to step in and maintain “separation of forces,” thereby avoiding the ladder of escalating violence, the lives saved and the treasure not wasted on war would be well worth the cost of maintaining a standing international police paramilitary capability.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Standing on Rhetoric in Lebanon

Believe it or not, George Bush may actually have stumbled on a rhetorical formula that could be useful in the never ending search for peace in a world at war – many of which the U.S. has hand a hand or foot in starting or perpetuating.

In the context of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 on the process of implementing and extending the cease-fire between Hezbollah/Lebanon and Israel, the aphorism would be: “As the Lebanese army stands up, the Israeli army will stand down.”

Well, the Lebanese army, which numbers only about 60,000, has committed 16,000 troops south of the Litani River, where most of the devastation occurred outside of the southern suburbs of Beirut; bridges, electricity generating plants, and communications facilities throughout Lebanon; and specific targets in the Bekaa Valley.

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is also supposed to “stand up” an expanded force , going from 2,000 to 15,000 , as rapidly as possible – the UN Deputy Secretary-Genera Mark Malloch-Brown wants the first 3,500 soldiers on the ground along side said France has tentatively agreed to lead the expanded force for the first six months, but will only contribute 200 new soldiers – France already has 200 soldiers in the current UNIFIL force – to the expanded force. That the country supplying the mission headquarters will have so few personnel in the mission is unusual but may stem from Paris’ commitments in support of UN operations elsewhere (e.g., in Cote d’Ivoire) – as well as special operations in Afghanistan alongside U.S. forces. Most of the offers for ground troops have come from Asian nation: Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Nepal. The only European countries identified so far as possible ground troop contributors are Spain and Italy. Germany has made an offer of a “strong naval advisory” component to assist Lebanese officials in controlling seaports and other Mediterranean entry points. And Denmark has said it plans to dispatch two naval vessels to assist with the maritime interdiction mission.

Once again, however, the UN is racing the clock as it tries to get a peacekeeping mission running smoothly before a cease-fire breaks down. In Lebanon’s case, the fact that UNIFIL has been in the area for 28 years cuts the “learning curve” needed to integrate the new peacekeepers and ensure they are properly oriented to the mission.

Once the peacekeeping force is fully functioning, UN diplomats ought to re=examine the case for establishing a permanent Rapid Reaction force of perhaps 2 battalions (1,000 troops) and a smaller international police training corps that would constitute an advanced contingent available to respond to a UN Security Council peacekeeping mandate. No matter how hard the UN labors to restore and maintain peace , even in the best possible circumstances there will still be a gap between the end of hostilities and Security Council authorization. But the shorter the time lost, the better the chances that a peacekeeping operation will succeed.

In a sense, “standing up” and “standing down” are the wrong images. If peace is the objective, peacekeepers really want the belligerents to “sit on their hands.” It’s a sure bet that few people could fire a weapon if they can’t pull the trigger or press the “fire” button.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Speaking of Peace and Lebanon...

Two days into the ceasefire between Hezbollah/Lebanon and Israel – and so far the deal is holding.

Usually in January I do a round-up of multilateral organizations that have as one of their reasons for existing the mission to advance peace and security. This year January came, lingered for the obligatory 31 days, an went – with no entry called “Organizing for Peace.” (In fact, there was no “World at War” piece until May this year.)

But as each day of combat along the Israel-Lebanon border turned into the next and that into the next, it became apparent that the international community would have to become deeply engaged and fully committed for a lengthy period in reframing and then maintaining the terms under which those living near the border would be secure from attack by individuals or groups seeking political changes.

With the expansion of the current UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) from its current 2,000 to 15,000, this seemed to be an opportunity to finally begin the 2006 “Organizing for Peace.” Among the barebones statistics that will be woven into the narrative is the total number of UN peacekeeping (“Blue helmet”) operations – 60 – in the UN’s 61 years, virtually one every year. Fully one quarter of these are still in existence. The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations also overseas three political or peace-building missions in Afghanistan, Timor-Leste, and Sierra Leone.

As of the end of June, 87,707 individuals from 109 countries staffed the 15 primary missions. With the addition of 13,000 troops for UNIFIL, the total number of uniformed troops, international police, and military observes will exceed 100,000. International and local civilians and UN volunteers in these missions number 15,083. Another 2,556 individuals staff the three political/peace building missions.

Estimated. Cost for the 45 completed and 15 on-going missions is just over $41 billion. The current year’s budget (July 1, 2006 to June 30, 2007) is $4.5 billion – before the expanded UNIFIL costs are added.

The first UN peacekeeping operation, the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) was created to oversee the May 1948 truce between Israel and its neighbors. And then the armistice agreed to in 1949. Following the 1973 war, another mission – the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) – was created to oversee the separation of forces on the Golan Heights in Syria. UNIFIL was created in 1978.

UNIFIL has proven to be the most dangerous mission. Of 2,272 fatalities in all UN missions, UNIFIL has suffered 252 from hostile acts.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Ahmadinejad: Fanatic or Madman

In December 2005, Patrick Devenny, wrote an article in the American Spectator entitled “True Fanatic.” The subject was Iran’s President Ahmadinejad, specifically his remarks in September before the UN General Assembly.

Devenny was not so much interested in Ahmadinejad’s “warlike rhetoric” and his excessive “vitriol” as in his unexpected utopian – Devenny labels it “mystical” – tangential digression into an apocalyptic call for the beginning of events that will see the “emergence of the perfect human being” who will lead the world to justice and absolute peace.”

Ahmadinejad’s reference is to the 12th Imam or Mahdi, a figure destined to return, like Christ, to rule over the perfected New Jerusalem. And like many Christians, particularly in the United States, Ahmadinejad believes that the reappearance of the Mahdi will be preceded by war, pestulance, and general chaos. In the meantime, those best qualified to rule are the clerics whose religious calling makes them the most worthy if still imperfect stewards.

In this regard, Devenny notes that Ahmadinejad has close ties with a “fire-brand” ayatollah, Mesbah-Yazdi, who according to opposition figures in Iran is an extremist’s extremist, ready to execute all who insult his interpretation of Islam or promote a pluralistic society – i.e., an alternate vision.

Combining a literal reading of the Koran, a clerical regime (for the most part) and advent of global chaos as a prelude to global redemption and a new millennium – a chaos which could be induced by nuclear weapons that, according to Washington, is the goal of Iran’s nuclear program – yields the “true fanatic.”

But what exactly does this mean?

The word “fanatic,” from Latin, refers to a person “inspired by a god.” It has the same root as”frenzy” and a more mild condition of being a “fan” (i.e., an adherent or follower). At the extreme end of the scale, where Devenny puts Ahmadinejad, a person is motivated by uncritical zeal bordering on irrationality. Although not usually put this way, a fanatic is one who believes in the philosophy – irrational in its lack of reflection – summarized as “Don’t just stand there. Do something!” Or, more eloquently phrased by George Santayana: “Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.”

Anyone who saw a recent in-depth interview of Ahmadinejad might be pardoned for failing to detect the fanaticism that Devenny attributes to him. For all his use of religious symbolism and fundamentalist rhetoric, Ahmadinejad is quite rational, cunningly evasive as any western politician when he does not want to answer a question, as sincere as he can be when he does want to make a point, and quite capable of needling the interviewer. But he does not exhibit the extreme intolerance of opposing views that is a trademark of the Devenny extremist (such as the ayatollah) who sees any change, any deviation, any alteration as an attempt to interfere with the divine plan whose course is what mere mortals call history.

The reality is that true fanatics reject history because they reject change – and change is history. Their core belief (another irrational state) is the existence of an unalterable ground of being that will be possessed by those who adhere to the infallible interpretation of the ruling clerical classes waiting for the final divine act.

For all this, most fanatics remain in touch with the real world as that presents itself to their sensory organs. But each such interaction of itself spontaneously alters the original reality around and in each of us. And this perhaps is the point of differentiation between the fanatic and the madman: the first retains the capability of self-perception that, in turn, reins in the propensity toward isolationist behavior, creating opportunities to encounter competing views. A madman, on the other hand, has lost touch with the today’s world and is completely wrapped up in bringing into existence a self-designed “future” using whatever means come to hand – as Devenny describes Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi.

As has been observed often, we are all entitled to our own opinions, even our own propaganda, but not to our own facts. Those that can tell the difference, regardless of culture, weapons, or threats against other countries, are as deterrible today as the original nuclear powers were in the Cold War. And here Devenny does have a point. Given the spread of lethal nuclear technology, it behooves the world to be alert to the ascendancy of a madman as ruler of a nuclear weapons state. This type just might be crazy enough to pop one.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Lebanon's Litani: Will it become Unlivable?

From the point where Lebanon’s Litani River makes a sharp turn from south to west (and becomes the Qasimiyah River) heading for the Mediterranean Sea just north of Tyre, the Israeli-Lebanese border is anywhere from 2.5 to 18 miles to the south.

For nearly five weeks, this part of Lebanon has been on the receiving end of hundreds of thousands of tons of explosives fired by Israeli Defense Force (IDF) air, naval, infantry, armor, and artillery units. Similarly, northern Israel to a depth of approximately 18 miles (down to Haifa) has been subjected to daily barrages of Katyusha rockets fired by Hezbollah militia units.

The intensity of the fighting and tenacity of the combatants are reflected in the casualty figures (at least 123 Israelis, including 40 civilians) and 861 Lebanese, mostly civilians) and the duration of the fighting. Since the 1956 “Suez War,” when France, Britain, and Israel attempted to reverse the nationalization of the Suez Canal by Egypt’s President Nasser, only once has the IDF been in sustained combat for more than two months. That was in 1982 when Israeli ground forces pushed the Palestine Liberation Organization north of Beirut – ironically the same military incursion that gave birth to Hezbollah.

In mid-July, Israel asked the U.S. to expedite delivery of 100 GBU-28 laser-guided 5,000-pound bombs whose purchase had been approved by the U.S. last year as part of a large munitions purchase by the IDF. Now Israel has requested the U.S. provide M-26 artillery shells, a “cluster munition”

This is a request the U.S. should deny for operational, humanitarian, and diplomatic reasons.

Cluster munitions and anti-personnel landmines are frequently considered to be the same category of weapon. However, there are differences in the manner in which they are employed on a battlefield and in the user’s intent. That said, operationally the two systems have the same defects: they are indiscriminate area weapons that can remain dangerous to military forces and civilians long after the immediate battle ends – sometimes for years.

Cluster munitions commonly are delivered by artillery shells such as the M-26. As the shell arcs toward the target area, the outer casing opens, scattering as many as 644 “bomblets" over an area that can be as large as 100 acres. The bomblets are intended to explode when they hit the ground or some other solid object. Because the dispersal pattern is irregular, there is no pattern or “footprint” that could help bomb disposal teams identity likely locations for unexploded ordnance (UXO). And with cluster munitions, there can be anywhere from 5 to 22 percent of the bomblets that are duds or, for other reasons do not explode and remain armed, waiting to be picked up, kicked, or otherwise disturbed.

In 1978, the Defense Department provided Israel with cluster bombs after Tel Aviv agreed not to use them against civilians. But in Operation Litani, Israel did use them. The Carter administration suspended further transfers, a suspension later lifter by the Reagan administration.

Secondly, with regard to humanitarian concerns, anti-personnel landmines are more likely inflict trauma to limbs whereas cluster munitions, which have more explosives than landmines, are more lethal. Moreover, as already mentioned, the propensity for high numbers of UXOs can pose significant risks month and even years later for unaware or uninformed noncombatants.

Thirdly, the use of cluster bombs will complicate the efforts to fashion not only a verifiable cease fire but also the comprehensive peace that all parties profess is their objective. Nations that might otherwise volunteer to participate in an initial mission to verify troop withdrawals and the end of hostilities between the warring parties could well hold back because of the increased risk to their nations from bomblets. In the long view, the time needed for and the cost of reconstruction, recovery, and resumption of normal, legal pursuits by the permanent residents of south Lebanon, will be lengthened exponentially.

Moreover, to judge from the media, even the IDF seems divided. On one hand it is seeking the M-26. On the other, they are dropping leaflets in Beirut telling the Lebanese that Hezbollah is concealing the extent of its true losses in fighters and rockets – implying that Hezbollah is about to collapse.

Whether true or simply wishful thinking, the only rational way forward is to stop the killing – now.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Crystal Ball Gazing

There right on the front page, above the fold of the August 9 edition of the Washington Post, was the nine word headline: “War Crimes Act Changes Would Reduce Threat of Prosecution.” The staff writer was R. Jeffrey Smith.

If you look on Foreign Policy in Focus for August 1, Counterpunch for August 2, and Guerilla Network News for August 4, you might come across an article that somewhere in the title are four words: “No Standards, No Accountability.” The article describes the 1996 War Crimes Act and how its provisions, initially intended to extend the reach of the U.S. government to capture and try anyone who attacks a U.S. national or U.S. property abroad, could actually be turned around and used to prosecute U.S. officials who authorized or participated in any way in the mistreatment of detainees.

R.J. Smith probably would not remember that we met a number of years ago. I don’t remember the subject of the meeting, but it would have been connected with the Pentagon or some aspect of military policy or programs. I think he is very thorough and very fair. And in this case, as usual, he hit the nail on the head.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Bush reads the Washington Post. And I’m almost 100 percent sure he doesn’t look at the FCNL website. Besides, he’s in Crawford – except when he’s traveling around the country doing fundraising.

With the invaluable advice of just one lawyer (R.J. went to six) who made sure what went out from FCNL was factually correct, we accomplished one of FCNL’s goals: educating the public about government policies and programs.

What’s scary about predicting the administration’s strategy to absolve itself of responsibility for shaving if not breaking the law is the damage they will do to the rule of law. Everybody likes to be right, but not when the point involves undermining the very basis of our government.

Anyone want a crystal ball?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Connections and Interconnections

Pity the Bush Administration. It is currently beset with almost more than it can handle. Perhaps if it could step back and envision relations among its foreign policy predicaments, the task of running the world wouldn’t seem so daunting.

First thing is to consolidate the various challenges arising from the so-called “global war on terror.” NATO sans the U.S. has now slid into the most dangerous part of Afghanistan and placed NATO’s prestige on the line – and the lives of more soldiers from the Netherlands and Canada as well as Britain.

In Iraq, after all but announcing troop draw downs through rotations in which fewer soldiers came in than left, the upsurge in sectarian strife bordering (ALWAYS bordering) on civil war has forced the U.S. to add about 3,700 troops. Now the Iraqi government is recruiting 10,000 former “nominal” Ba’athist party members to help run the ministries and discharged military officers and enlisted troops to rejoin the army. And these were Vice-President Chaney’s “dead-enders?”

In Russia, the “Federation Council,” the upper chamber of the bicameral legislature, gave Vladimir Putin a “blank check” to employ Russia’s armed forces and other security personnel, anywhere in the world. Moreover, the Bush administration has been forced to reverse its stand against letting Russia store spent nuclear fuel rods – a lucrative business that is dominated now by the U.S. As the main supplier worldwide, Washington has a say in where the spent rods are kept. And of course, speaking of matters nuclear, right now the U.S. needs Russia’s cooperation on North Korea and Iran. Finally, on this issue, Pakistan appears intent on increasing its production of plutonium by building a new reactor.

Speaking of North Korea, its firing of seven missiles last month, sent Tokyo into orbit – figuratively speaking. In South Korea, however, nothing seemed able to break the country’s concentration on the World Cup – which could be because the North’s test firings had no impact on the South – literally. Moreover, South Korea is moving to build a long range (in excess of 300 kilometers) cruise missile to counter the North’s ballistic missile developments. The Missile Technology Control Regime does not restrict cruise missile development as it does ballistic missiles.

Meanwhile, Turkey is running out of patience with the inability the U.S. (or lack of interest to commit resources) to bring to heel the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) whose main bases are in Iraq Kurdistan from where they launch armed forays into Turkey. Ankara accuses the U.S. of a double standard in that it supports Tel Aviv’s war against Hezbollah in Lebanon – a government Washington wants to survive – but refuses to give Turkey the green light to cross into Iraq to attack PKK bases because – right on – it might destabilize the regime in Baghdad. Both Hezbollah and the PKK are on Washington’s list of terror organizations.

The Hezbollah-Israel-Lebanon fighting hit 27 days today. Diplomats finally started to get agreement among themselves at the UN, but they forgot to include the Beirut government, which rejected the initial draft. (Israeli diplomats were in frequent huddles with U.S. ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, as the resolution was being crafted. Syria is also under heavy international pressure to end weapons deliveries to Hezbollah – something it will be called to implement in the UN resolution expected to be voted out on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Syria, of course, also borders Iraq, which gets me back to the neighborhood where this all started in October 2001 when Washington was actually talking with Tehran.

Maybe the White House ought to try that approach again now. It worked once.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Space-Time Lines July 12 -- Lebenon and Beyond

The date: July 12, 1943.
The place: Kurst, in the former Soviet Union.
The event: one of the largest armored battles in history. Some 900 Russian tanks took on and defeated 900 German tanks. Overall, in and around Kurst were approximately 6,000 in one of the largest tank-on tank battles ever waged.

Probably no one in Lebanon, in Hezbollah, or in Israel even thought about Kurst. It is history – sixty-three years, which might as well be ancient history for most people today. But Kurst was the turning point on the Eastern front, and in that sense is can be seen as contributing to the battle that began 24 days ago. (In a more fundamental sense than bullets and bombs could ever be, the current fighting started just four years after Kurst, but that’s another blog entry to come.) This one doesn’t match tank for tank or aircraft for aircraft. But is does involve the minds, hearts, and emotions of a vast number of people around the world – and therefore the attention of national leaders. To get an idea of just how varied the onlookers are, type into Google or your own favorite Internet search engine “time July 12 Israeli soldiers captured.” Some 8,770,000 different hits come up – and that is only in English with a few entries translatable into English or already in English. In the space of time this is being written, that number will undoubtedly gone up.

Interestingly, changing the query by one word – “captured” to “kidnapped” – drops the count to 6,080,000 hits. And by rearranging the terms even further to “time July 12 Hezbollah captures Israeli soldiers,” the number of site entries plunges to 2, 940,000.) Having worked in the U.S. Army’s public affairs specialty for a few years, I have a sense for “spinning” and how defeat is glossed as a win and the opponent’s win a stunning defeat.

That thought led me to recall a scene from the film “Patton.” He arrived in North Africa after the first clash of arms between U.S. and German forces in World War II. Patton sets off on an inspection tour of the battlefield. As his jeep moves down the road parallel to the coastline, Patton orders his driver to turn off the coast road and head for the shoreline. Upon arriving near the coast, he gets out of the jeep and begins walking around in a state of controlled excitement. Although he does not identify any particulars, he has an overwhelming sense that centuries earlier, men – a large number of men – fought and died where he stood. He, Patton, was there then. And in 1943, he has come back and is going to be tested again.

But perhaps the greatest irony among the notable events that transpired on July 12 occurred in 1957 when the Shi’ite Nizari Ismaili sect proclaimed the Fourth Aga Khan as their spiritual leader. According to Nizari belief, the Aga Khan is a direct descendent of The Prophet through his son-in-law Ali and daughter Fatima.

Aside from reporting the obvious military events and the spinning by both sides that they are “winning,” the western media seem thoroughly uninterested in trying to unravel the sequence of events that cascaded on July 12, 2006 in the vicinity of the Israeli-Lebanese border. Governments rightly need to focus on ending the carnage and the killing, so the press needs to dig for and preserve wherever possible the time-space particulars that were the trigger.

Keeping in mind that there is a seven hour difference between Beirut and Washington, what is indisputable?

Well, everyone agrees that the date in question is July 12, 2006.

The time of day does appear to be morning Lebanon time – specifically 0904 or 0905 Beirut time. The source is attributed to Hezbollah and can be found in BBC News online n early five hours later. By that time, other Israeli troops had already entered Lebanon, bombing had already commenced, Israeli reserves had been called up, and Hezbollah had fired its opening volleys of rockets into northern Israel.

The Hezbollah statement quoted by the BBC said its forces had “captured two Israeli soldiers at the border with occupied Palestine.” Hezbollah considers all of Israel to be occupied.

Agence-France Presse (AFP) in its reporting gave Lebanese police as the source of information that the Israelis were caught in the Lebanese border town of Aitaa al-Chaab. But the time of the AFP story is 2022 Lebanese time, and the report notes that Israeli television is already claiming that the soldiers had been in Israel when they were seized.

The Associated Press (AP) also ran the story. The AP time line as reflected in the on-line version of Forbes magazine is 0541 U.S. East coast time, which translates into 1141 Lebanese time.

So sometime between 0900 Beirut time and noon, it appears that seven Israeli soldiers were killed and two captured either “at the border with occupied Palestine,” in Aitaa al-Chaab, or just inside Israel’s northern frontier. The rapid response by IDF commandos, army helicopters, and airplanes also suggests that Israel may have been getting ready for a thrust into southern Lebanon to degrade Hezbollah’s rocket stockpiles.

With 50,000 soldiers (240,000 including all reserves), Israel defeated 280,000 troops from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq in the 1967 six day war. In 1973, the same four Arab countries (with 800,000 military personnel) attacked Israel (400,000) on Yom Kippur. Three weeks later it was all over; Israel had crushed the foreign armies.

The bad news is that the fighting now has gone on for 24 days in Lebanon and northern Israel. If the peacemakers tactic is to avoid returning to the status quo ante, then the processes for change will have to be implemented concurrently rather than sequentially.

A ceasefire agreement linked to an exchange of prisoners and to a pull back of forces from the border by each side would come first, with a small, unarmed UN-authorized mission – ground and air – to verify the separation immediately after it occurs. When this is done, a larger UN-authorized peacekeeping force with a mandate to prevent a resumption of hostilities by either side would take up positions between the two forces, setting the stage for two parallel negotiations.

The first, convened by the UN, EU and the U.S., would involve Israel, Syria, Lebanon and through Lebanon, Hezbollah, with the Palestinian National Authority (and through it Hamas) as an observer. It would deal with the unresolved issues left over from the last Arab-Israeli war – specifically delineating borders, return of occupied and illegally annexed territory, control of the means of violence in recognized governments, disbanding of independent militias, placing limits on the forward disposition of offensive weapons and units in the proximity of international borders, and the long-term presence of UN peacekeepers with a Chapter VII mandate in a neutral buffer zone along all those borders.

The other would include as conveners the UN, U.S., EU, Russia, and China and involve Israel, the Palestinian National Authority, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iran with Iraq, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia as observers. This regional track would address not only mutual security but also rebuilding areas destroyed in the recent fighting in Gaza, Lebanon, and northern Israel.

Israel will not achieve security until it removes the oppressive conditions that it maintains on the inhabitants of Gaza and the West Bank. At the same time, the various Palestinian and other Arab militias and anti-Israeli factions will have to decide in favor of a fruitful future for their children over a future of constant warfare and want. That choice will requires the acceptance by all Islamic countries, militias, and factions of the reality of the permanent existence of Israel within the pre-1967 borders, the end of hostilities or threats of hostilities against Israel, and Israel’s recognition of an independent and economically viable Palestinian state.

As the center of three religions, the Middle East/eastern Mediterranean ought to reflect the peace and serenity of the natural world. Until that state of human relations surpasses the state of recurring discord, what the young of that region will learn are “doctrines of despair, of spiritual or political tyranny or servitude” – and death.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Turning A Nightmare into a Dream -- Maybe

Earlier this year the cynics and the nay-sayers predicted that Africa would never see a woman as president of any country. Then came January 17, 2006 in Liberia – the “step-child” of the U.S. -- and the inauguration of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as president.

As head of a nation of 3 million that emerged a scant two years ago from two decades of civil war, Johnson-Sirleaf has a monumental challenge before her – one described as “turning on the lights one at a time.”

This past Sunday, July 30, another election took place that the cynics and nay-sayers had said would never be held. Yet for the first time in a little more than 46 years, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a country the size of Western Europe with more than 200 ethnic groups, appears to have successfully held a nation-wide election.

International observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and from the European Union (EU) expressed their satisfaction that the election, in which an estimated 22 million voters cast ballots, was transparent and credible.

There were instances of intimidation and attacks on some of the 50,000 polling stations by small factions that had refused to join the political process or who foresaw a loss of prestige and influence if they fared poorly. For example, Azarias Ruberwa, who led one of the larger rebel groups until appointed a vice-president in the current government, has already said he will demand a repeat ballot in some specific areas. Significantly, Ruberwa has said he will employ all legal means to annul Sunday’s results.

Recognizing these shortcomings in Sunday’s general balloting, the Electoral Commission directed 172 polling stations to re-open on Monday to allow those who might have been denied the right to vote on Sunday by the presence of anti-election demonstrators to participate in the ballot.

Conversely, Jean-Piette Bemba, also a former rebel leader (Congolese Liberation Movement) and a vice president in the current government, holds leads in six of the country’s eleven provinces.

Given the size of the DRC, the condition of the transportation grid, and the necessity to use paper ballots, the results may not be definitive for as long as three weeks. Even then, there is a strong possibility that no one candidate will pull the 50+ percent of the votes required to win outright. Should the contest go to a run-off, most observers say the opponents will be Bemba and the current president, Joseph Kabila. Initial returns favour Bemba in the cities and Kabila in rural areas.

Regardless of who finally wins, the probability is slim that the 17,000 member UN peacekeeping force – MONUC – could be reduced significantly. Eastern DRC remains volatile from continuing ethnic tensions, the presence of armed bands professing solidarity with the objectives of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, and government troops from neighbouring Rwanda hunting exiled Hutus who conduct cross-border raids.

In January, 1961 the Congo’s only elected Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated. It has been said that he was thbe only Congolese leader who rose above "ethnic difficulties and tribal pre-occupations.”

If the winner of this election can do the same, and also get the lights to come on, even one by one, perhaps – just perhaps – DRC will finally begin to pull itself from its nightmare.