Declaring victory and going home

We’ll be out of Iraq by Christmas.  So says the president.  The earlier plan was to withdraw nearly all of the troops but to leave behind a contingent to help keep the peace.  But the Iraqi government did not agree to that.  So the only American troops to remain in Iraq will be  couple hundred Marines to guard the embassy and some trainers, something lots of countries have.  It sounds like, after nine years, the war will really be over.

From the Washington Post:

President Obama will withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of the year, ending a long war that deeply divided the country over its origins and the American lives it consumed.

In a Friday morning video conference, Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed to a complete U.S. military departure that will fulfill a promise important to Obama’s reelection effort. The decision drew sharp criticism from his Republican rivals, as well as expressions of relieved support from those who believe it is time for the United States to conclude a war Obama once called “dumb.”

Speaking from the White House, President Obama says, “After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.”

Speaking from the White House, President Obama says, “After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.”

For months, U.S. and Iraqi officials had been negotiating the terms of an accord that would have kept several thousand U.S. troops in Iraq for special operations and training beyond the year-end deadline set by the George W. Bush administration.

But Obama and Maliki, who have never developed much personal chemistry, failed to reach agreement on the legal status of U.S. troops who would stay in Iraq beyond Dec. 31. As a result, only a contingent of fewer than 200 Marines assigned to help protect the large U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad will remain, along with a small number of other personnel to provide training related to new military sales and other tasks.

“The rest of our troops in Iraq will come home,” Obama said Friday at the White House, adding that they will “be home for the holidays.”

via All U.S. troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2011 – The Washington Post.

Will we have a big ticker-tape celebration to welcome our troops home and celebrate our victory?  Or is this another Vietnam moment?  Will this boost President Obama’s popularity?  What do you think will happen in Iraq once we’re gone?

Qaddafi is killed

Saddam Hussein, Osama bin-Laden, and now Muammar Qaddafi:

Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the former Libyan strongman who fled into hiding after an armed uprising toppled his regime two months ago, met a violent and vengeful death Thursday in the hands of rebel fighters who stormed his final stronghold in his Mediterranean hometown Surt. At least one of his sons was also killed.

Al Jazeera television showed footage of Colonel Qaddafi, alive but bloody, as he was dragged around by armed men in Surt. The television also broadcast a separate clip of his half-naked torso, with eyes staring vacantly and an apparent gunshot wound to the head, as jubilant fighters fired automatic weapons in the air. A third video, posted on Youtube, showed excited fighters hovering around his lifeless-looking body, posing for photographs and yanking his limp head up and down by the hair.

Conflicting accounts quickly emerged about whether Colonel Qaddafi was executed by his captors, died from gunshot wounds sustained in a firefight, was mortally wounded in a NATO air strike on his escaping convoy or bled to death in an ambulance. But the images broadcast by Al Jazeera punctuated an emphatic and gruesome ending to his four decades as a ruthless and bombastic autocrat who had basked in his reputation as the self-styled king of kings of Africa.

“We have been waiting for this moment for a long time. Muammar Qaddafi has been killed,” Mahmoud Jibril, the prime minister of the Transitional National Council, the interim government, told a news conference in Tripoli. Mahmoud Shammam, the council’s chief spokesman, called it “the day of real liberation. We were serious about giving him a fair trial. It seems God has some other wish.”

via Qaddafi Is Dead, Libyan Officials Say – NYTimes.com.

So the War in Libya, in which the USA played second fiddle to NATO, was a success, with the rebels in power and the dictator dead, with no American lives lost.  (Anyone know the NATO casualties?)  So shall we give President Obama credit?  Or do you have mixed feelings about this?

Awkward: Commemorating the War of 1812

Next year marks the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.   We have been commemorating the Civil War and tend to mark significant anniversaries of other major events in American history.  But not much is being planned for this one.  Except in Canada, which is planning a big celebration of how they defeated the American invaders.  From a piece by David Shribman:

What is the best way to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812? . . . .

How does Canada celebrate its victories over American invaders without alienating its biggest trading partner? How does the United States approach a war in which its principal adversary, Great Britain, is now one of its closest friends? And do the British pause to mark this event at all, given that for them it was but a brief, minor sideshow in the far more important Napoleonic Wars?

Along with the Korean War, the War of 1812, which most Americans remember dimly as being about impressment on the high seas and freedom of movement on the Great Lakes, is often called the Forgotten War.

It is sad  that Americans are so forgetful, for this conflict, which lasted roughly two and a half years, gave the United States its national anthem and its national identity, cemented in large measure the nation’s cultural and geographical boundaries, ushered in 200 years of peace with Britain and Canada, made the White House white and provided durable heroes such as Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Oliver Hazard Perry and Tecumseh.

It ended in virtual stalemate — no side lost substantial territory except, of course, the Indians — and was a decidedly mixed experience for Americans, whose generals were execrable, whose militia didn’t fight well and whose twin theories of warfare (that the French Canadians would rush to the U.S. side and that Canada would collapse into American arms) were ludicrous.

“The acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighborhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching,” wrote Thomas Jefferson, then out of office, “and will give us experience for the attack of Halifax the next and the final expulsion of England from the American continent.” Maybe Jefferson wasn’t a genius after all.

At the same time, however, the American Navy excelled, forcing the British to lose whole squadrons, which had rarely happened before. American naval prowess on the Great Lakes is still the stuff of legend, as is the old warship, the USS Constitution, known then and now as Old Ironsides.

But from the viewpoint of Canada, whose War of 1812 heroes are Isaac Brock and Laura Secord, the conflict is a different matter altogether, remembered for its glorious victories over American invaders.

“Thus the war that was supposed to attach the British North American colonies to the United States accomplished exactly the opposite,” the late Canadian historian Pierre Berton wrote in his two-volume history of the conflict. “It ensured that Canada would never become a part of the Union to the south. Because of it, an alternative form of democracy grew out of the British colonial oligarchy in the northern half of the continent.”

All this was two centuries ago, but it remains potentially awkward today.

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, which often stresses renowned moments in Canadian history, vowed in its federal election platform to undertake a vigorous commemoration of the war. Now, however, it is trying quietly to steer the commemoration away from noisy celebrations of American defeat, an effort that may not be entirely successful.

Canadian military historian Jack Granatstein believes the commemoration will be the occasion for what he calls an anti-American festival. “The normal discourse in Canada is anti-American,” he says. “It’s a secular religion, and this is the only acceptable form of bigotry in Canada. So when we have a chance to get up on our high horse and be self-righteous and say we whipped the United States, we’ll do so. It doesn’t mean more than one Canadian in a hundred knows a thing about the war. They don’t. Usually we have a moral superiority. This time we have 200-years’-old military superiority.” . . .

The war ended in a draw, but the contest to conduct the most comprehensive commemoration isn’t even close. The Canadians have appropriated millions, the Americans hardly anything. At this rate, the Canadians will appropriate the war entirely, at least for the next several years. Which brings us to a lesson for our time: Even forgotten wars can be lost 200 years later.

via War of 1812 anniversary poses dilemma / LJWorld.com.

HT:  Jimmy, my brother, who remarks, “I was wondering if our Canadian neighbors know that when we play the Star Spangled Banner before ballgames with the Toronto Blue Jays, the ‘bombs bursting in air’ were aimed at Canadians. I just hope they don’t find out, and to commemorate the 200th’s anniversary of the war of 1812 they add another verse to Oh! Canada, which celebrates how they defeated us in our northern campaign to liberate them from the British.”  Actually, Jimmy, if you would come to visit us out here, far from Oklahoma, we would take you to Ft. McHenry in Baltimore harbor where that song was written and where you would learn that these were bombs being lobbed by British mortars into American fortifications.  But still, your point is well-taken.  I can’t understand why these countries we are always trying to liberate, to the point of going to the great trouble and expense of invading them,  just don’t want to be liberated!

 

And now, the war in Uganda?

Our good-hearted but usually doomed attempt to right the world’s wrongs by sending in American troops to battle bad guys continues, as we send in the American military to central Africa:

President Barack Obama has authorized the deployment of up to 100 combat-equipped U.S. troops to central Africa to help hunt down the leaders of a rebel force known as the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army during a meeting with a delegation of officials and lawmakers from northern Uganda in 2006.

A senior administration official said 12 troops have been deployed so far under what he called a training mission aimed at helping African forces find and kill Joseph Kony, the fugitive head of the rebels.

The U.S. forces will deploy to Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Although the U.S. forces are combat-equipped, they will only be providing information, advice, and assistance to partner nation forces, and they will not themselves engage LRA forces unless necessary for self-defense,” Mr. Obama said in a letter to Congress released Friday.

The U.S. deployment will include special operations forces, defense officials said. Pentagon officials noted that U.S. forces are routinely deployed to Africa for training missions.

The Lord’s Resistance Army is believed to have killed, kidnapped and mutilated tens of thousands of civilians since the 1990s. Military officials said they believed Mr. Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, and other top LRA leaders are currently hiding the Central African Republic.

via U.S. Deploys Troops in Pursuit of African Rebels – WSJ.com.

Is this liberal foreign policy?  Isn’t this neo-conservative?  Like what President Bush did?  Maybe Republicans should just vote for Obama as the most Bush-like of all alternatives.

Certainly, one can make a case for neo-conservative military interventions to support America’s moral principles.   Do you think this new military engagement is a good idea?  Or are 100 soldiers too few to constitute a military initiative?

Iran’s plan to attack Washington?

ABC reports that officials have thwarted a scheme to attack the Israeli and Saudi embassies in Washington, D. C., a terrorist attack planned by the government of Iran!

FBI and DEA agents have disrupted a plot to commit a “significant terrorist act in the United States” tied to Iran, federal officials told ABC News today.

The officials said the plot included the assassination of the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, Adel Al-Jubeir, with a bomb and subsequent bomb attacks on the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington, D.C. Bombings of the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Buenos Aires, Argentina, were also discussed, according to the U.S. officials.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in an announcement today that the plan was “conceived, sponsored and was directed from Iran” by a faction of the government and called it a “flagrant” violation of U.S. and international law.

“The U.S. is committed to holding Iran accountable for its actions,” Holder said.

FBI Director Robert Mueller said the arrest of a suspect in the plot shows the U.S. will “bring the full weight of [the] law to bear on those responsible” and that “any attempts on American soil will not be tolerated.”

Senior Obama administration officials said the U.S. currently does not have any information indicating that either Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad necessarily knew about the assassination plot and said the U.S. will pursue a path of response that would not include the possibility of an armed conflict with Iran.

Shortly after Holder publicly announced the foiled plot, the U.S. Treasury announced it was initiating sanctions against five people allegedly connected to the plot.

The stunning allegations come against a backdrop of longstanding tensions between Iran and the United States and Saudi Arabia. In the last year, Saudi Arabia has attempted to build an anti-Iran alliance to push back against perceived aggression by Iran in the region.

via U.S. Says Iran-Tied Terror Plot in Washington, D.C. Disrupted – ABC News.

A link in the article cites a statement that the United States is not planning a military response.  But wouldn’t an attack launched by a sovereign government be an act of war?

America’s decline and China’s rise?

Robert Kaplan sees President Obama’s refusal to sell the latest F-16s to Taiwan as a sign of America’s decline and China’s rise:

By 2020, the United States will not be able to defend Taiwan from a Chinese air attack, a 2009 Rand study found, even with America’s F-22s, two carrier strike groups in the region and continued access to the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. Moreover, China is at the point of deploying anti-ship ballistic missiles that threaten U.S. surface warships, even as Taiwan’s F-16s, with or without upgrades, are outmatched by China’s 300 to 400 Russian-designed Su-27 and Su-30 fighters. Given that Taiwan is only 100 miles from China and the U.S. Navy and Air Force must deploy to the Pacific from half a world away, the idea that Washington could permanently guarantee Taipei’s de facto sovereignty has always been a diminishing proposition. Vice President Biden’s recent extensive talks with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping (who is poised to succeed President Hu Jintao), may have reinforced the notion inside the administration that Taiwan is better defended by a closer American-Chinese diplomatic understanding than by an arms race.

Notice what is happening, though. The administration is not acting unreasonably. It is not altogether selling out to Beijing. Rather, it is adjusting its sails as the gusts of Chinese power, both economic and military, strengthen. Thus the decision to help Taiwan — but not too much — illustrates how decline itself is an overrated concept.

Decline is rarely sudden: Rather, it transpires quietly over decades, even as officialdom denies its existence and any contribution to it. The Royal Navy began its decline in the 1890s, Princeton University professor Aaron L. Friedberg writes in “The Weary Titan,” even as Britain went on to win two world wars over the next half-century. And so, China is gradually enveloping Taiwan as part of a transition toward military multipolarity in the western Pacific — away from the veritable American naval lake that the Pacific has constituted since the end of World War II. At the same time, however, the United States pushes back against this trend: This month, Obama administration officials — with China uppermost in their minds — updated a defense pact with Australia,giving the United States greater access to Australian military bases and ports near the confluence of the Pacific and Indian oceans. The United States is making room in Asian waters for the Chinese navy and air force, but only grudgingly.

Decline is also relative. So to talk of American decline without knowing the destiny of a power like China is rash. What if China were to have a political and economic upheaval with adverse repercussions for its defense budget? Then history would turn out a lot more complicated than a simple Chinese rise and an American fall.

Because we cannot know the future, all we can do is note the trend line. The trend line suggests that China will annex Taiwan by, in effect, going around it: by adjusting the correlation of forces in its favor so that China will never have to fight for what it will soon possess. Not only does China have some more than 1,500 short-range ballistic missiles focused on Taiwan, but there are 270 commercial flights per week between Taiwan and the mainland, even as close to a third of Taiwan’s exports go to China. Such is independence melting away. And as China’s strategic planners need to concentrate less on capturing Taiwan, they will be free to focus on projecting power into the energy-rich South China Sea and, later, into the adjoining Indian Ocean — hence America’s heightened interest in its Australian allies.

This is a power shift. Subtle and indirect though it may be, it is a clearer story line than what is occurring in the chaotic Middle East, a region less prosperous and less dynamic than East Asia in economic and military terms, and therefore less important. Taiwan tells us where we are, and very likely where we’re going.

via A power shift in Asia – The Washington Post.

I would say that it is absurd to speak of America’s military decline in relation to China or anyone else.   It isn’t simply that America’s military has a huge technological advantage.  That alone is significant.  But America’s military also has something that is priceless when it comes to an advantage over an enemy:  combat experience.  Our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have given us that, at least.

Still, decline is not just a matter of military prowess.  Certainly our nation is weakened economically and culturally.  Also politically and in our national mood.  Does anyone think we would defend Taiwan even if we could?  China is resurgent and energetic, with its particular hybrid of communism and capitalism seemingly carrying the day.  Do you think Kaplan is right?  If so, should anything be done, or should Americans just get used to a second-tier status?


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