The Military-Industrial Complex — Where Is The Money?

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

On January 17, 1961, US President Dwight D Eisenhower delivered his farewell speech. The retired five star general had served two presidential terms and was being replaced by his fellow military veteran, the newly elected John F. Kennedy.

 

President Dwight D. Eisenhower receives hydrogen bomb tests report from Lewis Strauss Image public domain.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower receives hydrogen bomb tests report from Lewis Strauss
Image public domain.

 

In that farewell address, Eisenhower warned, “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex.”

Left-wing radicals are always quick to oppose military spending, but Eisenhower could hardly be accused of being anything like a left-wing radical. At the peak of his long military career, he skillfully commanded the allied forces in Operation Torch, which was the 1943 Allied invasion of Northwest Africa, as well as the 1944 D-Day invasion of Normandy and the Western Offensive against Nazi Germany and the European Axis powers.

After WW2, Eisenhower served as US Army Chief of Staff and then as Supreme Commander of European Forces. Few Americans could claim to have anything close to Eisenhower’s military experience or expertise.

Eisenhower was no “dove.”

He took the threat of Soviet expansion seriously. As US President, he oversaw the conclusion of the war in Korea in 1953 and approved funding for fledgling US space and satellite programs. Eisenhower also approved expensive Navy projects, such as the nuclear submarine program and the construction of the nuclear carrier, the USS Enterprise. He presided over the growth of expensive jet aircraft in the young US Air Force, and he approved funding for expensive new air defense systems for the US Army.

In spite of the large military budgets that President Eisenhower approved, some military and defense industry leaders saw him as being too frugal. Conversely, Eisenhower and his supporters felt that increasing military budgets threatened the economic health of the US.

Fifty-five years later, the arguments over defense spending continue.

Unlike during Eisenhower’s time, the arguments are now conducted against a backdrop of a frightening budget deficit and an eighteen trillion dollar national debt. The consequences of all government spending have a serious impact on the quality of life for the average American and on national security.

In Eisenhower’s time, the real threat posed by the Soviet Union impacted defense spending. Today, the Soviet Union is gone, but US and European citizens are justifiably concerned by threats from various radical Islamic groups, the increasingly nuclear-equipped North Korean despot Kim, a rapidly growing communist Chinese military capability, and a resurgent and belligerent Russia.

At a glance, it might seem as though a stable status quo has been in effect in military budgets.

In some senses, similar dynamics have remained in force. In 1961, Eisenhower was unable to convince Western allies to commit to adequate defense spending. The allies seemed happy to let the US military and taxpayers carry more than their fair share of the responsibility for the defense of Western Civilization. In 2016, that dynamic continues. US President Obama listens to nations like France, Canada, and the UK proclaim their increased commitment to defeating Islamic radicals, but then he watches as they reduce their defense programs. Eisenhower would recognize his frustration in dealing with NATO partners.

We might be tempted to assume that US defense spending itself is proportionate to what it was in 1961. Let us make some comparisons.

In 1961, US military personnel were badly underpaid. In 2016 this remains true. In 1961, the US defense budget was close to 10% of GDP. Today it is below 5% of GDP. In terms of GDP, the defense budget seems reasonable enough. But let us compare some specific defense project costs.

In 1961, the new Enterprise class nuclear aircraft carrier cost $451 million to build. Due to the escalated cost of construction, the additional three carriers of that class were cancelled. Today the new Ford class nuclear aircraft carrier is, so far, costing the taxpayers $12.8 billion to build, with an additional $4.7 billion in research costs. If we compare the two ships in inflation adjusted costs, then in today’s dollars, the Enterprise would have cost $3.4 billion to build. Where did the other $9.4 billion go?

When the Enterprise was built, it included many state of the art features, but its air defense system had been scaled back to save money. The Gerald Ford class carrier includes state of the art equipment and features, but the overall economics of the two programs are completely out of scale.

 

USS Gerald Ford under construction in Newport News, VA. Image public domain.

USS Gerald Ford under construction in Newport News, VA.
Image public domain.

 

My question is simple. What national defense value are we receiving for the disproportionately high cost of the USS Gerald Ford?

We could make similar comparisons with nuclear submarine programs, but let us instead apply the scrutiny to a broader defense project, the F-35 fighter program. The F-35 was developed as a low cost alternative to the F-22 Raptor. So what does “low cost alternative” mean in the defense industry?

The F-22 cost a frightening $150 million per plane. No wonder we wanted a “low cost alternative.” The F-35, so far, cost between $100 million for the basic model and $104 million for the VSTOL version. I’m grateful that we decided to pursue a “low cost” fighter plane.

Let’s compare the F-35 to the infamously expensive Republic F-105D fighter. In 1960, the year before Eisenhower’s farewell speech, the outlandishly expensive F-105D cost $2.1 million each. In 1960, it was the state of the art fighter, and it incorporated many new technologies. It was plagued by cost overruns, and its development was every bit as contentious as the F-35 development has become. In 2016 dollars the F-105D cost $17 million apiece. As with the Gerald Ford Carrier, the cost of the F-35 has wildly outpaced inflation.

 

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Edwards Air Force Base Image public domain.

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Edwards Air Force Base
Image public domain.

 

What defense benefit are we getting for the additional $80 million per each F-35? Is the F-35 going to bring us more security today than the F-105D brought us in 1960? I don’t see it.

The defense industry would counter my concerns with comforting catch phrases. They tell us that it is “stealth,” and that it employs more “net centric ability” than previously imagined. For less than $100 my house is “net centric.” So how does the marvelous net centric ability account for the cost of the F-35? From my point of view, it doesn’t.

Defense contractor PR players would likely question my patriotism. Am I not aware of all the real threats in the world? Do I not want the best possible defense for my family’s safety? In fact, I am very much aware of the many threats to our national security, and I do want the best possible defense capabilities for our nation. That’s precisely why I question our $100+ million fighters and our $13 billion aircraft carriers.

Every dollar wasted or overpaid is a dollar that does not help our national defense. At the same time, high costs work to erode our national defense by damaging our economy.

The F-35 and the Ford Carrier are only two of many defense projects that beg closer scrutiny. These high cost programs are being funded at the same time the US Marine Corps is undergoing a 30,000-man reduction in force. The Pentagon and the White House tell us that we are more committed than ever to fighting the increasing terrorist threats, so how is it that we justify large cuts in our premier expeditionary force? The numbers just don’t add up. In some cases, they don’t come close to adding up.

President Eisenhower’s words are even more appropriate today than they were in 1961. Think twice before you quietly accept every extravagant defense expenditure. Let your congressmen know you are watching.

Buyer Beware!

 

Crooked Line in the Sand — Russia and Turkey

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

On Tuesday, November 24, 2015, two Turkish Airforce F-16s shot down a Russian SU-24. How will that incident impact Russia-Turkey relations, Russia-West relations, NATO response, and the fight against ISIS?

 

Russian Sukhoi SU-24 Image by US Dept. of Defense, public domain.

Russian Sukhoi SU-24
Image by US Dept. of Defense, public domain.

 

Not surprisingly, Russia and Turkey disagree on what occurred leading up to Turkey shooting down the SU-24.

Russia claims that its aircraft flew along the Turkish border, making sharp turns along the crooked and sharp-angled Northwestern Syrian border to avoid flying into Turkish air space. According to Russia, its pilot received no warnings prior to being shot down. The Russians claim they were hitting ISIS targets in the area.

Turkey claims that the Russian plane flew a two mile route across a small section of Turkey that borders Syria to the east and west. Turkey claims that it radioed ten warnings to the Russian pilot before shooting down the SU-24. According to Turkey, there are no ISIS terrorists in the area that the Russians were bombing – that ethnic Turks that do not support ISIS, but do oppose Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, inhabit the targeted area.

Russia’s claim that the downed SU-24 never flew across Turkish airspace is highly improbable.

The SU-24 lacks the maneuverability required to fly the route that the Russians are claiming that it flew. Also, the Russian claim that they were attacking ISIS targets in the area is most likely at least partially false. ISIS members would be scarce in that area. The Turks seem to be telling the truth about those elements of the shoot down.

However, the Turks could not have radioed ten warnings in the few seconds that would have elapsed while the SU-24 was crossing over Turkish airspace. It’s possible that they could have been broadcasting warnings as the SU-24 flew the long leg of its route that paralleled Turkish airspace. In any case, Turkey had previously warned Russia to keep their warplanes out of Turkish airspace in response to earlier incursions by Russian planes. (For one example, see Russia Upskirts Turkey.)

So why did Russia allow their pilot to fly over Turkish air space?

Given the highly regimented air combat control structure employed by the Russians, it’s not likely that the pilot acted on his own initiative. Russian avionics equipment is not cutting edge, but it is certainly adequate to prevent an accidental flyover on the particular route taken by the SU-24. My guess is that Russia had decided that their pilots should limit their incursions into Turkish air space, but that they approved the flight path that led to their plane being shot down. It seems that Russia miscalculated Turkey’s resolve concerning its incursions.

So how will this incident affect the famed “international coalition to combat ISIS”?

Since the famed coalition is more a product of rhetoric and wishful thinking than of substance, it’s not likely to matter much. Russia is in Syria to prop up the hapless Bashar Assad. Russia’s opposition to ISIS is secondary to that goal. The West opposes both ISIS and Assad. Non-ISIS rebels are receiving Western aid, and both Turkey and its Western allies are opposed to Russian airstrikes targeting non-ISIS rebels. None of this will be greatly impacted by Turkey’s shoot down of the Russian SU-24.

On the diplomatic front, Putin claimed that Turkey “backstabbed” them by shooting down the plane.

Given that no real cooperation between Turkey and Russia has occurred in Syria, and given that the Syrian regime previously shot down a Turkish F-4 on the Syrian Turkish border, it’s more accurate to describe Turkey’s actions as a “counter slash.”

Russia canceled some official meetings between Russian and Turkish ministers and has asked Russians to halt any tourist travel in Turkey. Russia is also claiming that it is scaling back plans for gas exports through a new Russian gas line across Turkey. This seems unlikely since the alternative is for Russia to continue to rely on gas lines crossing Ukraine to reach European markets. With the current low prices of crude, Russia cannot afford to scale back on energy exports. Their fragile economy needs the revenue generated by oil and gas exports.

In military terms, Russia has reacted by deploying better air defense missiles in Syria.

This, when combined with the uncertainty that Putin relies upon so heavily in his foreign policy tactics, may present a new threat to Western and Jordanian aircraft flying in Syrian airspace hunting ISIS targets.

Putin likely does not want to further escalate the situation in Syria by attacking Western or Jordanian aircraft, but he might feel justified in shooting down Turkish aircraft that fly into Syrian air space. The possibility that Russia might mistake a French or American aircraft for a Turkish aircraft cannot be ignored. In recognition of that, the West might, without much fanfare, inform Russian commanders in Syria of Western flight plans when attacking ISIS targets.

As for Russian relations with Western nations, the impact will be minimal.

The US views Erdogan as unreliable on his best day. If Erdogan has “backstabbed” anyone, it has been his NATO partners. Nobody in the US military community will forget that on the eve of the 2003 US-coalition invasion of Iraq, Erdogan withdrew his permission for US troops to invade Iraq via Turkey. More recently, Turkey has been inconsistent in dealing with the Kurds in their fight against ISIS. Erdogan claims to want to fight ISIS, but he has spent far more effort fighting Kurds both in Turkey and in Syria.

Turkey is a NATO partner, but thanks to Erdogan, it is the least trusted and least liked member. NATO will not ignore direct military aggression by Russia against Turkey, but given Erdogan’s long, ugly record of ignoring the interests of his “allies,” NATO partners are not going to allow Erdogan to control their agenda in Syria.

As for the war on ISIS and statements by US cabinet members and DOD spokesmen that “this further complicates our efforts against ISIS” – that’s more PR effort than reality.

The Obama administration’s opponents have been critical of Obama’s minimalist approach to combating ISIS. The White House now has one more excuse for not escalating efforts against the Islamic extremists.

Given the economic trouble at home and the expensive conflict in Ukraine, Putin does not want to escalate a conflict with Turkey. Given the growing discontent and political violence in Turkey, along with troubled relations with his NATO allies, Erdogan does not want to escalate a conflict with Russia. NATO does not want Turkey or Russia to escalate a conflict. Neither Erdogan nor Putin have demonstrated skill in foreign policy or diplomacy, but both have strong reasons to avoid a serious engagement with each other.

Most likely, the status quo will continue in Syria. The fight against ISIS will remain in low gear, and since Russia has few friends, economic convenience will prevent a long term freeze of Turkey-Russia relations.

ISIS Attacks Paris — A Major Mistake

Bayard & Holmes
~ Jay Holmes

On the night of November 13, 2015, cowardly criminals from the ISIS gang carried out coordinated attacks against innocent people in Paris, France. So far, 136 people are confirmed dead, and many more remain wounded.

 

Memorial at Bataclan Image by Annie Harada Viot, public domain.

Memorial at Bataclan
Image by Annie Harada Viot, public domain.

 

Before examining the effects of the attacks beyond the casualties, Piper and I wish to offer our respectful sympathy to all the families that lost loved ones in the attacks. We also wish to assure the people of France that civilized people throughout the world stand in solidarity with them.

It is easy to see why reasonable people might view the Paris Attacks as a “success” by ISIS.

ISIS got attention, and its vainglorious leaders lust for that. They hurt France and, by extension, all French allies and sympathizers. The attacks were a tactical success in that, while they likely killed far fewer people than the ISIS head-monkeys had hoped for, they killed more than enough to justify their efforts in tactical terms.

All this notwithstanding, I view the Paris attacks as a gigantic failure on the part of ISIS.

That’s because the violence in France does not, and will not, support ISIS’s goal of extending its control over more Middle East territory. It certainly doesn’t get the group closer to its stated goal of worldwide Islamic rule.

The Paris attacks have already resulted in increased French air strikes against ISIS assets in the Middle East. As for ISIS assets in Europe, France and other European nations have redoubled their efforts in rounding up the ISIS vermin that have been roaming free across that continent. If you are an agent of ISIS in Europe, your life is more difficult this week than it was last week. Those seventy-two virgins are closer than you think.

This does not mean that ISIS is incapable of carrying out further attacks in the West.

It is never difficult for criminal enterprises to recruit the losers in any society. But since the latest attacks, Europeans will be more willing to tolerate increased police activity and higher military budgets. Those higher military budgets, coupled with increased Western willpower to use military force against ISIS, will equate to a higher rate of vaporization of ISIS thugs across the Middle East. If anyone disagrees with this theory, please note the ISIS casualties these last few days in Syria and North Africa. It’s not a good time to be waving an ISIS flag.

So then, why would a group that claims to be the rightful rulers of all the people on the planet be so unwise as to carry out the Paris attacks?

One critical element of the answer is stupidity. No sane, intelligent person would join ISIS, let alone try to lead it. Lots of types of individuals might join ISIS, but one of the common traits they share is an inability to reasonably perceive reality. Even those that join because they wish to rise in personal status from unemployed dishwasher to “badass terrorist gun slinger” must be intellectually deficient in order to volunteer for life as an ISIS gofer. Being the lead lowlife in a group like ISIS is, at best, a short-term thrill. Being at the bottom of the lowlife heap must be hellish. We are not dealing with a collection of 25,000 brilliant scholars. We are dealing with heartless, bloodthirsty idiots. And they will fail.

When ISIS first came to the forefront of Western media, some analysts predicted that they would be very difficult to defeat. I stated openly that with any real effort by the West, ISIS could be sent back to the caves and sewers that they crawled out of. Some observers viewed the well-publicized parades of black clad jihadists waving ISIS flags as a terrifying new event. I viewed them as an ideal opportunity for target practice for Western and Middle Eastern militaries. A few (very few) experienced military analysts scoffed at the notion that ISIS could be defeated with less than years of major military effort including thousands of US “boots on the ground.”

Thus far, with minimal effort by the US and far less serious efforts by a few of our allies, the ISIS Middle East blitzkrieg has been halted.

Keep in mind that Western efforts have amounted to airstrikes against ISIS targets, pathetically small assistance to the Kurds, a mammoth infusion of cash and arms to that vaguely defined troupe of hapless clowns that we so generously call “the Iraqi Army,” and minimal efforts at helping independent Syrian rebels. We will not at this time delve into any possible covert actions that may have occurred against ISIS.

Thus far, the airstrikes have been partially effective.

Some in the West have called for a more robust bombing campaign against ISIS targets, but that’s a topic for another discussion. The under-armed, outmanned Kurds, now assisted by a few poorly-armed Yazidis, have been very successful in their struggle against their well-armed ISIS opponents. The fact that the Yazidis and Kurds are willing and able to cooperate with each other is further bad news for the despised ISIS. Our wildly expensive efforts with the Iraqi Army have resulted in little more than accidentally supplying ISIS with weapons, ammo, and equipment. Our efforts at assisting Syrian rebels have yet to yield meaningful results. And yet, with such minimal effort by the West, ISIS has been stalled.

What about ISIS’s many friends across the Middle East?

They no longer have any. Thus far, the ISIS Middle East Foreign Policy Initiative has consisted of creating steadfast enemies in Jordan, infuriating the Egyptian government, and declaring war on Hezbollah in Lebanon, thus earning the always generous hatred of the Iranian Shia junta. All of this has been done without them initiating their most important battle – their “coming war” against Israel.

Even by the low standards of ISIS logic, the Paris attacks were a foolish move. ISIS’s future has never been bright. This week, it’s dimmer still.

Vive la France! Vive la liberté!

À la ferme porcine avec ISIS!

Russia Advances In Syria — What Does It Mean?

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

Stories and concerns are circulating about an escalated Russian military presence in Syria.

Many of the stories focus on the fact that Russia has sent four Sukhoi SU-30SM fighter jets and eight military helicopters to Syria. We know that Russia has also sent antiaircraft batteries. Less noticed, but possibly more important, is the fact that Russia has ramped up construction at an air base near Latakia, Syria. The construction upsurge appears to indicate facilities for a significantly larger military presence than Russia currently has in Syria.

 

Russian Sukhoi SU-30SM fighter. Image by Aktug Ates, wikimedia commons.

Russian Sukhoi SU-30SM fighter.
Image by Aktug Ates, wikimedia commons.

 

So what does this Russian buildup in Syria mean? The US just posed that same question to Russia.

US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter spoke with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu on Friday, September 18. This was the first official conversation between their two institutions since February 2014, when the US broke off military discussions with Russia due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The purpose of this recent conversation was to discuss “de-escalating” any possible meetings between Russian and US forces in Syria.

While Russia’s presence in Syria might seem sudden and new, Russia has, in fact, been in Syria for over half a century.

Since the 18th century reign of Catherine the Great, Russia has sought military alliances in the Mediterranean. After over two centuries of effort, Russia’s presence in Syria is the only real, lasting diplomatic success that Russia has ever achieved in the Mediterranean. Small though Syria is, the Assad regime has always been a “Russia project.”

Current Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s dictator father, Hafez al-Assad, became president of Syria in 1971. The Soviets trained Hafez al-Assad both as a pilot and as a president. The Assad One-Party-Many-Secret-Police style of government is a copy of the Soviet model. It is the same model that Putin is doing his best to reinstate in Russia today.

 

Dictator Bashar and wife Asmaa al-Assad in Moscow, March 26, 2008. Image by Ammar Abd Rabbo, wikimedia commons.

Dictator Bashar and wife Asmaa al-Assad
in Moscow, March 26, 2008.
Image by Ammar Abd Rabbo, wikimedia commons.

 

The US and Europe are backing Assad’s enemies in Syria while they struggle to oust the Assad regime.

Russia does not want Assad ousted. The real impacts of Russia’s buildup in Syria will depend on how far Putin is willing to go in backing Assad. However, the recent Russian upgrade still leaves Assad and Russia at a tremendous tactical disadvantage against US and European forces in the area.

Because of this disadvantage, it is unlikely that the Russians will attempt to directly engage with any US or European aircraft that are flying missions in Syria.

The Russians are explaining their buildup in Syria as their attempt to help their ally Assad fight off ISIS.

Since ISIS is also the enemy of the West, then in theory, the West has nothing to worry about from Russian forces in Syria. The equation becomes much more complicated if and when Russian forces engage with Western-backed rebels, which are rebels who oppose both Assad and ISIS. Russia has offered no explanation as to how their forces will differentiate between Syrian rebels and ISIS fighters. They obviously won’t.

From my perspective, the only surprise about the Russian buildup in Syria is that Russia waited so long to go this far.

Russia has a lot to lose in Syria, and it needs Assad or an Assad-clone to remain in power for two major reasons. The first and most obvious reason is for Russia to keep its one Mediterranean naval base. The second and more subtle reason is that a critical part of Putin’s empire rebuilding strategy revolves around maintaining and creating allies. The ally-creation part of Putin’s grand strategy has failed miserably.

Most of Russia’s old Cold War European allies have either joined NATO or are trying to. Even the stubbornly neutral Swedes are considering joining NATO. Beyond Europe, most of Russia’s old allies have come to expect less aid from Russia in the post-Cold War environment. Russia’s popularity has, in most cases, plummeted amongst undeveloped nations around the world.

In the narrow and mostly closed mind of Vladimir Putin, keeping Assad in power has become a critical need for maintaining a facade of Russian relevancy in the 21st century.

This, of course, is more bad news for both the Syrian people and the Russian people. Putin is once again missing an opportunity to move past his Cold War childhood and embrace modern opportunities.

So how will the West respond to Russia in Syria?

The same way we have for the last half-century. The US and Europe will continue to support enemies of the Assad regime without directly confronting Russian troops in Syria. If Russian forces “mistakenly” fire on US or Western aircraft in Syria, the West will then likely upgrade the weaponry of Syrian rebels in order to make life more miserable, and more dangerous, for the Russians in Syria.

It appears that Putin is willing to invest heavily in propping up the Assad regime. As long as Czar Putin is able to maintain his stranglehold over Russia, I would not expect a Russian retreat from Syria in the near future.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Bayard & Holmes Official Photo

Piper Bayard is an author and a recovering attorney. Her writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror. Together, they are the bestselling authors of the international spy thriller, THE SPY BRIDE, to be re-released in September, 2015.

THE SPY BRIDE Final Cover 3 inch

Keep in touch through updates at Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes in comments below, at their site, Bayard & Holmes, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

 

Critical Threshold for US-Philippine Relations

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

On August 26, 2015, the Philippine government took a major step in Philippine foreign policy toward its closest ally, the US.

During an official visit to the Philippines, the commander of US Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris, met with Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin. During that meeting, Secretary Gazmin requested US military assistance in resupplying Philippine military forces in the West Philippine Sea, or, as China calls it, the South China Sea.

Though largely ignored by most Western media outlets, that request is a signal event in US-Philippine relations.

Those of us who remember that the US military was unable to settle workable continued lease terms for two huge major US bases in the Philippines in 1992 might have to subdue an automatic “we told you so” response. Harris is a smart man, and he gave no such smug response. Instead, he politely listened and agreed to pass the request up the chain of command.

 

Spratly Islands with flags from the five contenders. Image by CIA, public domain.

Spratly Islands with flags from the five contenders.
Image by CIA, public domain.

 

The Spratly Islands, which lie between Viet Nam and the main Philippine islands, are germane to this request.

The islands are under conflicting claims between the Philippines, Viet Nam, Malaysia, Taiwan, China, and Brunei. Since the largest of the Spratlys, Taiping Island, is only 110 acres at best, depending on the tide, it is clear that the land in the Spratlys is not what is central to the competing claims. Even the fishing rights, oil, and natural gas deposits are not what really drive the claims.

The critical underlying issue is the effect that a successful territorial claim would have in defining the national boundaries of China and the other claimant nations, and how those boundaries would impact navigation through what has previously been considered international waters.

The Philippines’ request for military assistance from the US is, on the surface, simple enough. However, beneath the surface, there has been a lack of unity on several issues that have greatly impacted US-Philippine relations since the fortunate demise of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

The standard view of the fall of Marcos and the rise of Corazon Aquino in 1986 holds that the Marcos regime ended, Aquino brought democracy, the new democracy evicted the US from Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Field Air Force Base, and everyone lived happily ever after. The reality was, and remains, somewhat more complex.

 

Clark Air Force Base in Philippines, 1989. Image by US Air Force, public domain.

Clark Air Force Base in Philippines, 1989.
Image by US Air Force, public domain.

 

Marcos died, but the Marcos regime did not quite die with him.

The pressure for the US to abandon its bases in the Philippines did not come from a populist groundswell of Filipino public opinion, as was assumed by most Western journalists. Many on the right assumed that the US would, and should, remain. Many working class Filipinos also had no desire to see the US gather up its cash and leave. In fact, according to Philippine research, 85% of the Philippine people viewed the US favorably then, and still do today. Principally, wealthy landowners and the senators that they owned drove the desire for the US to leave. They saw the US as having enabled the fall of Marcos and the eventual rise of Corazon Aquino, a land reformer, to the presidency in 1986.

 

Corazon Aquino, 1986, at Andrews Air Force Base. Image by US Air Force, public domain.

Corazon Aquino, 1986, at Andrews Air Force Base.
Image by US Air Force, public domain.

 

One of the central themes in Corazon Aquino’s campaign was land reform, which was not a welcome concept to the wealthy plantation owners.

In 1972, her husband, Senator Benigno Aquino, was arrested and imprisoned on various charges after he spoke out against the Marcos regime. In 1980, after Benigno Aquino suffered a heart attack in prison, Imelda Marcos, likely in part due to US pressure, arranged for him and his family to travel to the US for medical treatment and asylum. The Marcos regime and the wealthy landowners that supported it hoped that they had seen the last of the troublesome Aquino family. They hadn’t.

In 1983, Marcos was hospitalized for a kidney transplant, and reformers sensed change in the wind. Aquino, well aware of the danger that awaited him, returned home to the Philippines, intending to battle the Marcos regime from prison by way of grass roots public support. He thought it would work. Unfortunately for Aquino, Marcos thought it would work, too.

When Aquino stepped off the plane, security forces ushered him toward a waiting van. He was shot in the back of the head, and he died before reaching the hospital. Marcos and his pals had allowed a hapless communist agent to slip past the massive security scheme, and he may or may not have fired the .357 magnum revolver that killed Aquino. He may have simply been placed in the right location to be framed for the murder. The communist agent was shot dead at the scene, too, so we can’t ask his opinion.

 

Statue of Benigno Aquino, Jr. in Conception, Tarlac. Image by Ramon F Valasquez, CC3 License, wikimedia commons.

Statue of Benigno Aquino, Jr.
in Conception, Tarlac.
Image by Ramon F Valasquez,
CC3 License, wikimedia commons.

 

The murder of Aquino backfired on the Marcos gang.

Benigno Aquino became a martyr for the people of the Philippines. Aquino’s funeral on August 31, 1983, started at 9:00 a.m. at Santo Domingo Church with the Cardinal Archbishop of Manila, Jaime Sin, conducting the mass. It ended at 9 p.m., when Aquino was buried at the Manila Memorial Park. More than two million people lined the streets during the procession, which was broadcast by the Catholic Church-controlled Radio Veritas. The state controlled media did not broadcast the funeral. Eventually, after Corazon Aquino became president in 1986, twenty-four members of the Philippine military were convicted for conspiring to murder Senator Benigno Aquino.

Most of the long-awaited fairytale democracy has yet to materialize in the Philippines, but democracy has survived, land reform did occur, and now here we are in 2015, fielding a request from the Philippine government for military assistance. And who occupies the office of president of the Philippines now? Benigno Aquino III, the son of the late Senator Benigno Aquino II.

 

Inauguration of Benigno Aquino, III in June, 2010. Image by Govt. of Philippines, public domain.

Inauguration of Benigno Aquino, III in June, 2010.
Image by Govt. of Philippines, public domain.

 

So, what does that request for US military assistance mean in real terms?

It means that in 2015, the Philippines live too close to China. It also means the Philippines has not yet fielded a credible military force to prevent Communist China from moving its border to within two hundred miles of its shores. At this point, even the pissed off ex-landowners are thinking that the US Navy, backed up by a US Air Force, operating from US funded non-US bases in the Philippines could make life easier in the South China/West Philippine Sea.

To state this simply and accurately, the country of the Philippines is requesting that the US play the role of the colonial protectorate in guarding Philippine transport through the Spratly Islands. The Philippines is asking the US to risk military confrontation with China on its behalf.

What’s in it for the US?

The primary advantage is keeping international maritime traffic open through the region. It is not in the US interest for China to expand its Exclusive Economic Zone and its border to the eastern edge of the Spratly Islands. Another advantage is that, if the US must ever resort to a conflict with China, the alliance with the Philippines has the potential to extend the US perimeter to the Spratlys, helping to keep the fight away from our shores.

And how will the US respond to the request?

Cautiously, and quietly . . . We have been waiting for that request for a few years now, and nobody in the Pentagon or the State Department was surprised by it. The preference thus far has been to encourage the Philippines to start building a credible Navy and Air Force. That might happen one day, but not soon enough.

Lots of plans have been announced, but five years into their planned grand naval expansion, the Philippines has yet to acquire a functioning frigate to send to the Spratlys. Their new fifty meter patrol craft are not going to scare the Chinese. I cannot read the mind of President Obama or his closest advisors, but I don’t imagine that the White House would be anxious to commit to another military escalation while heading into a campaign season. A slogan such as “More Wars for Your Enjoyment” isn’t going to win any elections.

My best guess is that the US will step up diplomatic efforts to encourage closer military ties between the Philippines and all its neighbors not named “China.”

In the meantime, China is now dealing with economic problems and complex domestic political intrigues, and it is not as rock-solidly prepared as it would like us to believe to escalate beyond harassment and intimidation in the Spratlys. China will take everything it can get by way of intimidation, but I don’t see it significantly escalating its aggression in the Spratly Islands in the near future.

 

Operation Fox Hunt — China Targets Its Expatriates

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

According to news stories in Western sources, China is now conducting a global campaign to capture Chinese fugitives and recover illicit funds. Chinese police and security forces are entering foreign countries, illegally detaining fugitives, and shipping them back to China without any due process.

 

Fox silhouette with concept phase inside on blur background of forest

 

Some of the fugitives may have been guilty of committing acts that would be considered crimes in the US and other Western nations. Unfortunately, in China, the term “fugitive” is also applied to political dissenters that have escaped.

Even in cases involving actual criminals, the Chinese are ignoring US laws in pursuit of their quarry.

Foreign governments wishing to detain criminals that have escaped to the US must first convince the US government of each individual case’s legitimacy. If the US agrees that a case is legitimate, then foreign police officers may be granted legal entry. The foreign police officers would then have to work with US law enforcement agencies to arrest the suspect. The Chinese have no desire to meet these normal requirements of US and other Western governments.

One of the results of China’s new economic success combined with its endemic corruption is that it now has more criminals escaping China with wealth.

In communist China, today’s revered business mogul, general, or party official may be tomorrow’s wanted criminal. Financial corruption at all levels of the Chinese government is completely normal. As long as a corrupt individual remains in favor with the oligarchy, he may remain a revered hero. That same “hero” instantly takes on demon status when he falls from favor. When said hero sees the ideographs on the wall and gets out of Dodge – or Shanghai, Beijing, etc. – a fugitive is born. If said fugitive demon manages to transfer wealth out of China while getting the hell out of Dodge, then he becomes a more urgently wanted fugitive.

To be fair, I must point out that chasing targets in other people’s countries is not a completely Chinese invention.

I seem to recall hearing a rumor or two about extreme cases when US agents escorted wanted individuals back to the US without the permission of the foreign nations where those individuals may have been residing. Not that I would ever do anything so impolite, myself. These are just rumors, and I don’t remember where I heard them. I’m old, and I forget stuff. In any event, it happens more frequently in fiction than in reality. Overall, it all really comes down to the relationships between the nations in question.

When nations have anything like a reasonable working relationship, they are unlikely to resort to snatch jobs.

For one thing, they don’t need to. For another, they don’t want to damage workable relationships by pursuing every annoying criminal or NSA whistle blower. Let us consider the case of Edward Snowden as a well-known example. Edward committed an unforgiveable sin. He did something that made him a more sought-after fugitive than if he had been a serial killer – he embarrassed the US government and the governments of several of our allies.

You will note that Edward resides in Russia. It’s not because he likes the food, weather, or women better than what he might have had available in, say, Italy, Spain, France, etc. Or, if he wasn’t hungry, perhaps he might even have relocated to England or Germany. But Edward chose Russia because he knew that Russia would not send him back to the US. He also guessed correctly that he would quickly become a high profile case, and that the US would not attempt to chase him while he was under the protection of Putin and pals.

In the case of China, the Chinese government knows that it has nearly zero diplomatic capital to trade on. In China’s judgment, if it wants someone, it needs to go out and hunt him down. The Chinese have named their program for hunting fugitives and their cash Operation Fox Hunt.

The agents employed by China in Operation Fox Hunt are not employees of the Chinese Ministry of Justice, but rather employees of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security. The methods used by the Chinese agents chasing “fugitives” are often extreme. In some cases, the fugitives’ family members in China are threatened in order to force the fugitives to return.

The Chinese government let its citizens know that Operation Fox Hunt has captured and returned over 900 fugitives to China. That figure indicates a scope of activity that surpasses Hollywood’s wildest imagination. In fact, it even dwarfs the vast Iranian efforts at controlling, murdering, or snatching Iranian expatriates. The message to the people of China is clear. Annoy the Chinese government, and there will be no escape from its wrath.

Having publicized Operation Fox Hunt to its domestic audience, China will now deny it to everyone else.

Our well-dressed friends from Foggy Bottom (the US State Department) reported that they warned Chinese officials about the activities. I assume that the State Department’s warning will be as effective as all the other warnings that the US has issued to China in the last hundred years, as in not at all.

Next month, Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit the US. I have no doubt that one White House aide or another will, with a serious look on his or her face, tell us that during their meetings, our President “expressed our grave concerns.” The result of that meeting will be similar to the results of our last dozen meetings with the Chinese, as in nothing will happen.

One of the implications of China’s Operation Fox Hunt is perhaps less obvious than China’s usual lack of ethical conduct, but it is more important. For more than 900 expatriate Chinese to be captured and returned from the West, the appropriate Western agencies would have to be asleep at the switch.

 

Actual photo of Western agency during Operation Fox Hunt

Actual photo of Western agency during Operation Fox Hunt

 

Given the cost to Western taxpayers of those various agencies, the naps in question are more outlandishly expensive than an Obama family vacation or a Congressional junket. If all this activity has been missed by our beloved and oh-so-clever Department of Homeland Security, Britain’s MI-5, or the French Surete Nationale etc., then what else have they been missing? Let’s not ask them. They would simply respond by asking to have their budgets doubled.

One possibility is that Western Governments have known about Operation Fox Hunt, but they have remained silent until the Chinese decided to expose it to its citizens for the propaganda value.

Let me be clear that I am speaking from the point of view of a casual observer. I have no access to classified information concerning Operation Fox Hunt – not even the usual emails from Hillary.

That being said, Western governments might not like what the Chinese are doing, but lacking a practical and effective response, they have until now ignored Operation Fox Hunt.

In many cases, the West may have no desire to keep China from capturing its expatriate party elites. Not all wealthy Chinese escapees are criminals in the traditional sense, and it is likely that a few of them are legitimate prisoners of conscience. How many times various Western agencies may have foiled Chinese Fox Hunts is unknown. Western governments don’t usually publicize such successes unless there is a diplomatic advantage in doing so.

Behind the smoke and mirrors, one can discern a clear message.

As Chinese President Xi Jinping continues to extend his authority to Maoist proportions, he needs to convince the Chinese people that his power grabbing campaign is actually a campaign to save China from “those corrupt traitors.” Operation Fox Hunt is just another facet of Xi’s bigger game. As long as Xi Jinping is able to hold the throne, don’t expect meaningful positive change in China.

Changing US-Mideast Relations — Turkey’s Hot and Cold Running Erdoğan

By Jay Holmes

During the past twelve years, US-Turkey relations have been in a state of flux. Statements from Ankara and Washington D.C. to the Western media have been almost habitually optimistic, but the reality beneath the rhetoric has proven problematic for both nations. For the West, the rise to power of Turkish President Recep Erdoğan and his pro-Islamist Justice and Development Party has introduced complications in the previously stable US-Turkey relationship.

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Image by Govt. of Chile, wikimedia commons.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Image by Govt. of Chile, wikimedia commons.

 

As compared to earlier Turkish leaders, such as Abdullah Gül, the outspoken Erdoğan has demonstrated less finesse when dealing with Western leaders. In his three terms as Prime Minister and now as the President of Turkey, Erdoğan has represented himself as an agent for change. Precisely what sort of change Erdoğan represents is not so easy to identify.

Erdoğan is a case study in contradictions.

Turkey has been moving toward economic integration with the European Community for over a decade, and Erdoğan openly supports this. He’s counting on European markets to provide the cash that will satisfy the “development” aspect of his Justice and Development Party platform. Yet, in spite of his desperate need to bring Turkey into the European Community, he simultaneously sees himself as leading Turkey into a leadership position among Islamic nations.

These two positions are not realistically or mutually sustainable. The values, standards, and laws that are central to European Community membership are not compatible with the values, standards, and laws of most Islamic nations.

One of Erdoğan’s dilemmas is his relationship with Iran.

Iran, unlike Turkey, is a Shia nation with a radical Shia theocracy. Therefore, it might seem a simple choice for Erdoğan to openly oppose Iran and Iranian ambitions in Syria and Iraq. However, Iran is Turkey’s second largest export customer. Iran also provides Turkey with about 35% of its oil supplies. Instead of being at odds, these two countries have fostered closer relations in recent years.

The rise of a democratic reform movement in Syria followed by the birth of the ISIS cancer presents Turkey with obvious security risks. It also presents Turkey with a golden opportunity to assume a leadership role in the fight against ISIS at a time when Turkey so desperately wants membership in the European Community.

In light of this golden opportunity, one might envision coalition air attacks being conducted from Turkish air bases, which are ideally located near the Syrian border. One might even expect the Turkish Air Force to take part in those raids. However, one would be quite mistaken. While Erdoğan has loudly demanded and received prompt NATO protection in the past, he refused to allow US and European air forces to conduct raids against ISIS from Turkish bases. For apparent diplomatic reasons, the US and its allies have downplayed their frustration with Turkey over this and several other issues concerning ISIS.

Another contradiction in Turkish policies is Erdoğan’s changing relationship with the Kurds. While most Kurds see themselves as being one people in need of an independent homeland, Turkey views them as three distinct groups.

The first group is the Kurds within Turkey. In order to enter the European Union, Turkey has been under pressure from Europe to improve its stance on human rights. Erdoğan and many Turks see the Kurds within Turkey as enemies of Turkish culture and a challenge to Turkish nationalism. In order to gain entry to the European Community, Turkey has changed some of the laws that discriminated against Kurdish Turks, but Turkey’s relationship with other Kurds remains more complex.

The second group of Kurds resides to the east of Turkey in Iraq. From Erdoğan’s point of view, they are “our dear Kurdish friends to the east.” The central feature of those particular Kurds that makes them dear to Erdoğan is the oil reserves in their region. Perhaps I oversimplify. It’s not just the oil. There’s gas, as well.

 

Kurdish refugee camp in Suruc, Turkey, Nov. 19, 2014 Image by Voice of America, public domain.

Kurdish refugee camp in Suruc, Turkey, Nov. 19, 2014
Image by Voice of America, public domain.

 

The third group of Kurds is in Syria. Many of these Kurds previously resided in Turkey, but they escaped to Syria to avoid oppression by the Turkish government. While practicing to pretend to love Kurds in Iraq, Erdoğan is hosting 200,000 Syrian Kurdish refugees in Turkey. These Kurds have no oil and no gas to sell to Turkey, and so to Erdoğan, they are only a problem.

Removing ISIS from Syria would be a simple solution to the refugee problem. However, when ISIS attacked Kobani, Syria, on the Turkish-Syrian border, Turkey refused to allow the US and other coalition members to supply the Kurdish resistance fighters in Kobani through Turkey. In Erdoğan’s mind, Kurdish control of part of Syria represents a threat to Turkey. Erdoğan fears that the Kurds will one day do to Turkey what Turkey has done to the Kurds.

The US grew tired of negotiating with Erdoğan and resorted to airdropping supplies to the Kurdish fighters. In spite of Erdoğan’s opposition to US assistance to the Kurds, the Kurdish resistance fighters were able to drive ISIS from Kobani.

 

Kurdish YPG fighting in Kobane, Feb. 4, 2015. Image by Voice of America, wikimedia commons.

Kurdish YPG fighting in Kobani, Feb. 4, 2015.
Image by Voice of America, wikimedia commons.

 

One particularly nasty rumor that surfaced during the battle of Kobani is that members of the Turkish army supplied ISIS with ammunition during the battle. Another serious allegation against Turkey is that it may have been supporting ISIS affiliated rebels in Libya.

Turkey denies those allegations, but they cannot deny that a Turkish-born ISIS commander, Emrah Çaçan , is being treated in a Turkish hospital after being wounded in Kobani. At the same time, Turkey is prosecuting a Kurdish-Turkish medical student named Esra Yakar for providing volunteer medical treatment in Kobani.

Esra left school to volunteer as a physician in Kobani. She was badly wounded there, and with the promise of better treatment, she was taken to a hospital in Turkey. Her Turkish doctor requested that she receive advanced care by eye specialists, but he was ignored. She then lost the use of her right eye. After she was finally transferred to a hospital in Ankara, Esra Yakar was ordered out of her hospital bed by police, arrested, and thrown in jail. Though she was released a few days later, she is still awaiting a trail date on April 30. Apparently, Erdoğan and his government consider anyone that gives medical treatment to Kurdish fighters to be criminals, yet they are happy to give medical care to a well-known terrorist.

To be clear, not everyone in Turkey supports Erdoğan’s pro-ISIS behavior.

The medical community in Turkey is outraged by what was done to Esra Yakar and has lodged complaints and petitions on her behalf. Unfortunately, the opposition in Turkey counts for less each day since Erdoğan’s government has stifled the press and used the police and intelligence services to crush any opposition to his rule.

So why is Erdoğan so willing to defy his Western “allies”? Why would the European Community seriously consider Turkey’s application when Turkey has so clearly rejected all of the European Community’s shared values?

In large measure, the answer is oil and gas.

Turkey is serving as a major conduit for oil from Russia, Central Asia, and Iraq. Turkey must import most of the oil and gas that it consumes, and if the Justice and Development Party is to deliver on its “development” promises, it needs even more oil and gas to do so.

 

Kirkuk-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline -- only one of many through Turkey. Image by Amirki, wikimedia commons.

Kirkuk-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline–only one of many through Turkey.
Image by Amirki, wikimedia commons.

 

Although Turkey has none of its own gas and oil to sell to Europe, it collects lucrative fees on each barrel of oil or cubic yard of gas that flows through its pipelines or transfers through Turkish ports. At a time when Russia’s trans-Ukraine oil and gas pipelines are under threat because of its invasion of Eastern Ukraine, Europe will likely remain quiet about whatever Erdoğan does as long as he keeps allowing that oil and gas to keep flowing across Turkey.

And what will the US do?

For the moment, the US administration has decided to keep pretending that Erdoğan is an ally to the US and NATO. Elections in Turkey are scheduled to take place in June. Whether or not the throttled opposition can manage a victory remains to be seen.

The US will not be interested in harming European allies by slowing the transit of oil and gas across Turkey to European markets. My guess is that, if Erdoğan and his party remain in power, the US will begin to disregard Turkish interests while continuing to pretend that Turkey is an ally.

If the Justice and Development Party loses the next elections in Turkey, Turkey will likely end up with a more secular-leaning government, and it will abandon its fantasies of friendship with Iran and ISIS.

Until that happens, we cannot expect any real improvement in US-Turkey relations.

 

 

The Changing Face of US — Mid-East Relations, Part One

By Jay Holmes

The cancerous growth of ISIS across Syria and Iraq since 2014 both exacerbates and illuminates a series of changes in US-Middle East relations. The most crucial and obvious of these changes is to the relationships between the US and Iraq, Iran, Israel, Egypt, and Turkey.

 

Kurdish YPG fighting in Kobane, Feb. 4, 2015. Image by Voice of America, wikimedia commons.

Kurdish YPG fighters in Kobane, Feb. 4, 2015.
Image by Voice of America, wikimedia commons.

 

The simplest case to review from the whirlwind of US foreign policy transformations is the relationship between the US and Iraq.

When ISIS rolled into Iraq, the US-financed and Iraqi-led Iraqi Army collapsed anywhere ISIS appeared or threatened to appear. Only the lightly armed, poorly supplied Kurds halted the tide of ISIS terror. The much better armed, well-financed Iraqi Army proved to be an embarrassment to themselves and to the US administration that had overseen their creation.

The US had, until then, pursued a policy of pretending that their extravagantly well-financed “friend,” Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, was capable of leading a democratic government in Iraq. He never was. Many observers had long felt that Maliki was not capable of leading anything other than a self-promotion campaign. Perhaps it was that particular resemblance to Western politicians that caused some in the US government to mistake Maliki as a functioning politician as opposed to a common circus clown.

 

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki Image by US government, public domain.

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki
Image by US government, public domain.

 

The collapse of the Iraqi Army leadership in response to the ISIS invasion forced the US to stop pretending that Maliki was anything like a “leader.” At the urging of the US, Iraq formed a new government with the less laughable and more pragmatic Haider al-Abadi taking the lead as Prime Minister.

Students of world history will undoubtedly wonder what “US urging” looked like in this case. Was it something dark, complex, and difficult? Did it involve secret assassinations or long propaganda campaigns? No, and no. The US simply explained that without changes, next month’s check would not be arriving.

Rather than expose himself to the justifiable wrath that would soon be unleashed on him by the people of Iraq, Maliki took the pro-Maliki option and stepped down. Under new leadership, the Iraqi military is beginning to resemble a real military, and it appears that, with the assistance of the Kurds and US air support, it will begin to push ISIS out of Iraq. Whether or not this or any future US administration will have learned any long term lessons from the fantastically expensive Maliki debacle remains to be seen.

 

President Barack Obama Re: Nuclear talks with Iran ". . . according to their Supreme Leader, it would be contrary to their faith to obtain a nuclear weapon, if that is true, there should be the possibility of getting a deal." Obama quote, Feb 9, 2015, joint news conference with German PM Angela Merkel. Image by Gage Skidmore, wikimedia commons.

President Barack Obama
Re: Nuclear talks with Iran
“. . . according to their Supreme Leader, it would be contrary to their faith to obtain a nuclear weapon, if that is true, there should be the possibility of getting a deal.”
Obama quote, Feb 9, 2015, joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Image by Gage Skidmore, wikimedia commons.

 

A less straightforward and more mystifying case can be seen in changing relations between the US and Iran.

As near as rational observers can determine, based on the information thus far available, the change has been minimal. Previously, US-Iran relations were a case of the US completely distrusting Iran and worrying about its efforts to obtain nuclear weapons, but not doing much about it. In return, Iran responded by pretending to not want nuclear weapons while continuing to pretend to love or hate the rest of the world depending on the time of day.

In particular, Iran vacillates between claiming that it is no threat to Israel and claiming that it will annihilate Israel, Zionists, and those that sympathize with Zionists. Iran has not budged an inch from its decades of anti-Western/anti-Israel policies, yet the US is now oddly pretending to trust Iran. Iranian Shia Revolutionary Guards are now operating openly in Iraq with US acquiescence, and the White House now seems convinced that Iran isn’t really developing nuclear weapons after all. This one-sided rapprochement with Iran seems to be an unwise change in US foreign policy.

That leads us to another simple case: US-Israel relations.

The US government’s increasing friendliness toward Iran and the Israeli perception that the US has gone soft on terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah has complicated relations between the two allies. To understand the US alliance with Israel, one must pragmatically ignore personal sympathies and admit that the relationship has been rather one-sided for over half a century.

 

Anwar Sadat, Jimmy Carter, and Menahem Begin at Camp David Accords Image from US National Archives, public domain.

Anwar Sadat, Jimmy Carter, and Menahem Begin
at Camp David Accords
Image from US National Archives, public domain.

 

Confident of continued US financial and military support, Israel has never made much effort to consider US interests in the region when making foreign policy decisions. Israel has only been able to do this because successive US administrations consistently allowed it. The one major instance of Israel acceding to US pressure was the Camp David Accords. The result of the Accords has been of mixed value from Israel’s point of view. Israel now enjoys better relations with Egypt and Jordan, but Syria, the Palestinians, and Iranian-controlled Hezbollah remain at war with it.

From the US point of view, it often seems like we should expect more cooperation from Israel. From the Israeli point of view, it often seems like trusting in US idealism will lead to the death of Israel. In practical terms, the current tension in US-Israel relations changes almost nothing. It likely will require a change of US administration before US-Israel relations improve, and there is no guarantee that the next administration will seek closer relations with Israel. In the meantime, the US will continue to send the checks.

One if the more complex foreign policy cases in the Middle East is that of US-Egypt relations.

 

Egyptian Protestors, Tahrir Square, November, 2011. Image by Lilian Wagdy, wikimedia commons.

Egyptian Protestors, Tahrir Square, November, 2011.
Image by Lilian Wagdy, wikimedia commons.

 

 

The US relationship with Egypt since the Camp David Accords in 1978 has been fairly stable. The Mubarak dynasty did what it wanted, left Israel alone, and received lots of cash from the US. After the Mubarak dynasty collapsed in 2011, the Egyptian military took control of the country until elections were held in 2011. Some Middle Eastern potentates wondered why the US had so quickly abandoned “their guy” in Egypt. In any event, the US had little influence in the Egyptian version of the “Arab Spring” that lead to the “Mubarak Winter.”

In 2012, the Muslim Brotherhood won elections in Egypt, and Mohammed Morsi became the president. Morsi then quickly forgot his centrist moderate views and proceeded to try to consolidate power in his office while moving Egypt toward an Islamic theocracy. Many believed the elections were rigged, and As Morsi became more theocratic, many of his own supporters felt betrayed.

In 2013, Morsi was removed from office by the Egyptian military. Although he and his radical supporters had clearly lost the support of much of the membership of the Muslim Brotherhood and the rest of Egypt, the US reacted negatively to what they considered a coup. As required by US law, coups prevent any US aid from continuing. The rule is often ignored. In the case of Egypt, the administration wavered, and most of the military and other financial aid to Egypt continued. Nonetheless, the US response to the Egyptian military’s removal of Morsi aggravated the Egyptian military and many civilians. From their point of view, they had saved Egypt from becoming the “next Iran.” Morsi had been positioning himself as increasingly anti-West, anti-US, and anti-Saudi, so most Egyptians expected the US to be glad for Morsi’s removal.

 

Egyptians Celebrate Morsi's Ouster Image from Voice of America, July 7, 2013, public domain.

Egyptians Celebrate Morsi’s Ouster
Image from Voice of America, July 7, 2013, public domain.

 

In 2014, military leader Abdul al-Sisi won the presidential election. In theory, US-Egypt relations became simpler again with democracy appearing to be functioning in Egypt. The US was happy to have the sticking points gone from US foreign aid, but al-Sisi now has little confidence in his friendship with the US.

One obvious and interesting symptom of the cooling of US-Egypt relations is that Egypt has signed an agreement with France for the purchaser of French-made fighters. Anyone in the US government that happens to be awake this week might ask why, at a time when US unemployment is so high, US tax dollars are going to purchase French-made fighters for the Egyptian Air Force.

At the same time, Egypt has now joined in in the fight against ISIS, though they have been clear that they are operating on their own and not as a part of a US coalition. As in the case of Israel, it will likely require a new US administration for US-Egypt relations to improve. Whether or not the next US administration will develop better relations with Egypt or wish to continue foreign aid to Egypt remains to be seen.

Next week in Part Two, we will look at the changing relationship of the US and Turkey.

Russia’s Ukraine Invasion–The Cost

By Jay Holmes

Precisely who is fighting in Ukraine depends upon whom you ask. When Russian Dictator Vladimir Putin speaks to non-Russians, he claims the Russian-speaking Ukrainian rebels are valiantly fighting to save Russian-speaking orphans, Jews, and senior citizens from the vicious onslaught of the Ukrainian government. When Putin speaks at home, he says the Jews are plotting with Americans to overthrow Ukraine. The Ukrainian government, along with most of the rest of the planet, takes a different view. According to Kiev, the violence in eastern Ukraine is instigated by, funded by, and in part fought by Russian security forces.

 

 

Base image for Putin meme  from Agencia Brasil, wikimedia commons.

Base image for Putin meme
from Agencia Brasil, wikimedia commons.

 

From Putin’s office in Moscow, the Russian invasion must seem like a great idea. His entire campaign platform—for the next campaign, last campaign, or any campaign—is his vision of returning Russia to the former glory that, in his view, it enjoyed during the Soviet era. Many Russians don’t have the same memory of enjoying that glory, or much of anything else during that time. Unfortunately, their memories and opinions no longer count for much since Putin has consolidated his power as a New Age Stalin.

A year ago, NATO-aligned nations warned Putin that the costs to Russia for invading Ukraine would far outweigh any nationalist glory that he might obtain.

In response, Putin confidently explained to Western journalists that Europe would suffer more than Russia would from any Western-imposed economic sanctions. At that time and to this day, Putin is denying that any such invasion has taken place, or that the economic sanctions are hurting Russia. They are.

Since the invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s currency and its stock market have plummeted, and energy prices have dropped like a rock. Between that and the damaging economic sanctions that Putin had so confidently laughed off, the economic outlook for Russia is much less favorable today than it was a year ago.

Given Putin’s plans for increased military spending, the Russian taxpayers can expect decreased standards of living, accompanied by decreased civil rights.

The Russian people are already experiencing a decline in the standard of living in economic terms. Along with this, Putin is intolerant of dissent, the state controls the media, and political opponents are being jailed. Apparently, Putin’s visions of former Soviet glory come down to more centralized authority, fewer human rights, and the same economic hopelessness that made life so miserable in the old regime. Welcome to the “good old days.”

 

Euro to Russian Ruble Exchange Rate Image by Gorgo, wikimedia commons.

Euro to Russian Ruble Exchange Rate
Image by Gorgo, wikimedia commons.

 

For the most part, we in the West have measured the consequences of Putin’s folly in Ukraine in terms of damage to his economy, but there are deeper and less obvious consequences that will affect Russia for decades to come.

For starters, Putin grossly overstated his support at home for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The lack of real democracy in Russia means that Putin can pretend to ignore the unpopularity of his Ukrainian adventure, but even for a skillful, self- promoting dictator, there are limits to his power. I don’t know what those limits are. Unfortunately for Putin, he doesn’t know either. He would not like to discover them, as his increasing ruthlessness could mean that if he is toppled, he could end up with a retirement plan similar to that of his old pal Colonel Gaddafi in Libya.

Another price Russia is paying is that a substantial percentage of its young professionals are immigrating to the West in the wake of Russians allowing Putin to install himself as a modern czar.

That brain drain is hurting Russia. In fact, if so many Russian engineers and scientists had not left their country during the last fifteen years, Russia might not have needed to pay France to build new amphibious assault carriers for them. And now, with the sanctions, Russia doesn’t get the carriers from France. Putin wants desperately to modernize and enlarge his military, but that modernization depends on Russian engineering and scientific capacity, which has has been badly damaged by the intellectual exodus resulting from his repressive policies at home.

Russia is also paying in the form of deteriorating relations with Scandinavian countries.

Last week, Sweden suggested to its partners in the Nordic Defense Cooperation that they do two things. First, that they raise the status of cooperation from the current minimal form by establishing an actual Nordic standing task force to deal with growing aggression from Russia. Second, that deeper military coordination and cooperation be extended beyond Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark to include Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

 

Nordic Defense Cooperation Countries Image by S. Solberg J., wikimedia commons.

Nordic Defense Cooperation Countries
Image by S. Solberg J., wikimedia commons.

 

The bad news for Russia is that it didn’t take more than a few hours for the Nordic members to enthusiastically agree to Sweden’s suggestions. But that’s not all. Sweden has suggested that the combined force that they create should be available to integrate in NATO operations. So in effect, Putin has achieved what Western diplomats could not achieve with half a century of their best efforts–he has managed to get Sweden to join a Western alliance against Russia.

These developments are all consequences of Putin’s adventurism in the Ukraine, and they are all precisely the sorts of developments that Putin was hoping to avoid.

In an alternative scenario, Putin would be capable of seeing beyond 1986.

It is a view that would leave Russia without enemies in Europe. It would be a country where the aspirations of so many of its brightest young people would not include relocation to London or Paris. In that alternative paradigm, Russia could pick up a phone and ask Sweden if it could send a submarine to Swedish waters, and Sweden would say “yes,” because Russia would be a modern nation with a modern foreign policy and friendly relations with its neighbors.

That Russia would experience a better standard of living, greater scientific and cultural achievements, and far better national security. The NATO nations would be happier for it and would enjoy all the advantages of real cooperation between Russia and the West. But that’s the alternative paradigm and a view that Vladimir Putin will not entertain, because such a view would place the interests of the Russian people above his own desire for absolute political power.

The scope of Russia’s lost opportunities is spectacular to behold, but until new leadership arrives, Putin’s dingy Stalinist Cold War reality is all that we can expect for that country and its unfortunate neighbors. Proof that you can take the boy out of the Cold War, but you can’t always take the Cold War out of the boy.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Related Posts

France–At the Crossroads of Russia and NATO

How Putin is Having His Way with the West

Dances with Bears–The Putin/West Waltz

Ukraine in Crisis:  Vladimir Putin and the Power of Gas

Timeline of Ukrainian Turmoil–Part Two, 2001 – Present

It Didn’t Start Last Week–Timeline of Ukrainian Invasions

 

 

Charlie Hebdo and the State of “Free Press”

By Jay Holmes

The recent terror attacks in Paris have been a central theme in Western news outlets for the last couple of weeks. The outrage at these cowardly attacks is understandable, and responses from Western European leaders have shared some common themes. Condemnation for the murder of innocents, the assault against “free speech” and the “free press,” and vows to do more to fight terror were repeated across Europe. But precisely what can we expect in the way of increased defense of freedom of expression? The details are a bit less clear-cut than the rallying cries.

 

Paris rally in support of Charlie Hebdo victims Image by Olivier Ortelpa, wikimedia commons.

Paris rally in support of Charlie Hebdo victims
Image by Olivier Ortelpa, wikimedia commons.

 

Many Westerners quickly noticed that, while chiming in to support Charlie Hebdo’s right to free speech, numerous US television news networks carefully blocked out the now famous cartoon that Charlie Hebdo published. Apparently, “free speech,” as practiced by many of the US news giants, means something like “free as long as we agree with it, and it doesn’t violate our cowardly pathology for political correctness.” Perhaps it’s simply a case of “free to agree with us.”

In his condemnation of the attacks, US President Obama—that same fellow who claimed he would build the most “transparent” US government in US history— wisely did not specifically address the “free speech” or “free press” aspects of the attacks in his response. It simply would have been too ironic right now, considering the “transparency” we have enjoyed from the White House about matters like Afghanistan.

Remember that war in Afghanistan that ended last year? The one that is no longer a war, but that we are still funding and fighting? That war is part of the US global war on terror. The basic reason for conducting the global war on terror is to defend the freedom of the people of the US and, by extension, the freedom of our allies. Freedom is an important thing, and a “free press” is an important aspect of it.

Unfortunately, right about now, “free press” doesn’t apply to our conduct of the not-really-a-war in Afghanistan.

Every quarter the US military delivers vital statistics concerning the Afghan not-war to the US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, John Sopko. These statistics include evaluations of the progress of the fledgling Afghan Army, police forces, and national government at large. The reports also include information about bribery and corruption in the Afghan government. In his previous evaluations, Sopko has been critical of the cost and lack of results in Afghanistan. His evaluations were shared with the people of the US. This quarter’s statistics were declared “classified” by the US Army.

John Sopko and his staff will receive the information, but they will not be able to share it with us.

We don’t get to know who specifically made that decision. My suspicion is that the decision to classify the data came from the White House. The rationale is the old “we don’t want this vital information to get into the hands of the enemy” ploy. However, by “enemy,” we can’t be sure if the Army is referring to the Taliban or the US taxpayers that are starting to wonder where the hell all the money went in Afghanistan.

If the data is, in fact, valuable information for the Taliban and their assorted competing warlords, then who shall we court martial for allowing the information to be released to the public for the last six years? But remember, talking less about what we are doing in Afghanistan is an important part of defending “free press” and “free speech” in the US. It’s a rather curious example of “transparent government.” Are you feeling warmer and freer yet? I’m not. As they say in the more fashionable taverns in Georgetown, “Je ne suis pas Charlie Hebdo.”

About now, our French readers are enjoying a good laugh at those politically and culturally less sophisticated Americans. Go ahead and laugh. You should. But then take a closer look at things in France.

While addressing members of the French Navy on board the French carrier Charles de Gaulle, French President Hollande said, “I continue to regret the fact that the international community did not act in the required time to stop massacres in Syria and prevent extremists from gaining even more ground.” Indeed. There is much room for regret.

Hollande forgot to mention that of all the major European nations, France has been the most reluctant to get involved in Syria. Hollande has thus far declined to conduct air strikes in Syria. He was probably counting on French voters to forget that he only authorized the French military to conduct strikes against ISIS in Iraq and not in Syria.

So other than photo ops on an aircraft carrier, what has the French government done in response to the terror attacks?

They have, for the short term, increased police presence backed up by military forces to patrol French cities. As far as cracking down on terrorists that threaten free speech, they have made it clear that too much free speech will not be tolerated in that they have been arresting people who say anything in support of Islamic terrorists. This included the police questioning of an eight-year-old boy when his teacher reported that he was sympathetic to the attackers. The boy’s lawyer has since claimed that the boy does not know what a terrorist is. It’s never too early to teach children about “free speech.”

But let’s not pick on Hollande. There is plenty of French hypocrisy to go around. Angry at Fox news for referring to Islamic enclaves in Paris as No-Go Zones, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo stated that Paris will sue Fox news. I think the statement was made between passionate cries of “Je suis Charlie Hebdo” and “Vive la presse libre!” Clearly, France is not going to tolerate Fox news having an opinion about Paris neighborhoods. Since they are not busy in Syria, will Hollande authorize a carrier strike against Fox News?

UK Prime Minister Cameron was, of course, quick to denounce the attacks in Paris, and he made clear the importance of free speech and a free press. That’s a nice sentiment, but how far does it go? Does it apply to his government? Perhaps not.

The UK government has joined other European governments in wanting to require “back door access” to be built into social media products so that European governments can more easily spy on its citizens without a warrant. The government of the nation that invented the concept of the warrant doesn’t think it needs one to routinely listen to private citizens on social media.

As for “free press,” time will tell how free the UK Ministry of Defense has been with information about their planned reductions in the UK military. There are currently allegations making the rounds on Fleet Street that the Ministry of Defense is planning much larger cuts than what they are currently admitting to the public.

If this all sounds too sinister and depressing, don’t worry.

By comparison, people in Western Europe, Canada, the US, Australia, NZ, and Japan still enjoy a higher degree of freedom than the rest of the world. The fact that I can write this article without expecting to get arrested is proof of that. As long as we can remember to frequently and publicly laugh at our politicians, there is hope that freedom will survive.