Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 104 Re-run

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Description: Interventions, Interference, and Invasions: Nate and Bill lead a world tour of the post-WWII history of countries entering other countries’ civil wars and uprisings, for good or ill, and what it means for the future. (We talk about Cuba, Angola, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Indonesia, Guatemala, Libya, Central African Republic, Mali, Somalia, and many others.) People: Bill, Nate. Originally produced: October 20th, 2014. Re-edited and abridged: April 19, 2017.

Discussion Points:

– Kissinger’s plan to bomb Cuba and what the future of the embargo is
– CIA history: Why arming rebels has often failed and what it means for US plans in Syria now
– What does the future hold for international and unilateral military interventions in armed conflicts and crises? Is the UN still relevant?

Episode 104-Abridged (54 min)
AFD 104

Related links
Segment 1

NYT: Kissinger Drew Up Plans to Attack Cuba, Records Show
AFD: Jimmy Carter’s Election Prevented a Disastrous War in Cuba

Segment 2

NYT: CIA Study Says Arming Rebels Seldom Works

Segment 3

AFD: Confusion in Libya as Egyptian jets bomb Benghazi
AFD: US suddenly surprised to find Mideast states acting unilaterally
AFD: Is the US-led Syria operation vs ISIS legal under international law?
AFD: France announces indefinite Sahel deployment
AFD: France: Back to Africa?

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Op-Ed | France and the West: Inconvenient Questions

This essay originally appeared in The Globalist.

January 2013: French troops being airlifted to Mali. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)

January 2013: French troops being airlifted to Mali. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)

Nothing can ever justify or excuse an act of terrorism against civilians. But that does not absolve us from truly comprehending the links between the foreign and military policy approaches pursued by Western governments and the reactions this generates.

The aftermath of a terrorist attack is an especially difficult time to ask difficult questions about strategy. But just as the United States has faced a lot of (justified) criticism for refusing to acknowledge the direct linkages between misguided interventions and blowback incidents, we cannot apply a different yardstick to France.

Watch for the warmongers

This is all the more critical as, in the wake of the events in Paris, there are those pundits and policymakers who are trying to let slip the dogs of war or beat the drums by defining the scourge of “radical Islam” and “homegrown terrorism” as the root of all evil.

If we should have learned one thing by now, it is that tough talk is not the same as serious, strategic policymaking. It is irresponsible to undertake foreign policies without accurately representing to the public the likely risks to them that it will create.

As we assess the future approach, we must also take account of the role that Western governments have played in creating this catastrophe.

This applies especially to all those who glibly claim that ISIS “cannot be contained; it must be defeated,” as Hillary Clinton has just done.

Such an argument conveniently overlooks the fact that it was the U.S. government that inadvertently gave rise to this movement. Its decades of invasions and unpopular interference in the region ultimately culminated in the Pandora’s box war of choice in Iraq. Out of, and in reaction to, these policies grew al Qaeda and ISIS.

The advocates of such a strategy must also explain what can possibly be accomplished by responding with yet more force in an already war-torn region.

An eye for an eye strategy, while sounding principled, makes the whole world blind to the pitfalls such an approach has been triggering.

The French example

France can actually serve as Exhibit A of the pitfalls of a more “muscular” approach. The cruel attacks in Paris are demonstrably reactive in nature.

The unfortunate reality no one wants to discuss at the moment is that France’s Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-2012) and François Hollande (2012-present) have pushed the envelope for modern France on maintaining a highly aggressive and forcible military presence in majority Muslim countries.

Not since perhaps the Algerian War has France meddled with, sent troops to or bombed so many predominantly Muslim regions in such a short span.

President Sarkozy led regime change in Libya by air campaign in 2011 at the nadir of his domestic popularity. We know what that resulted in. He did it for oil and whatever it was that Iraq War apologist Bernard-Henry Lévy promised him would transpire.

But his successor, President Hollande, went way, way farther — claiming, almost George W. Bush style, that he was fighting ‘them’ over there to protect France from terrorist attacks at home. This approach painted a much bigger target on France’s back.

Hollande’s misadventures

The Hollande record is this: First, he invaded Mali in January 2013, after it collapsed as part of fallout from the Libya meltdown. He did so purportedly to stop terrorism and prevent the creation of a terrorism launching pad near Europe (despite Libya being much closer and truly festering).

In December 2013, he then invaded Central African Republic to ‘save’ Christians from Muslim militias that had already been disbanded. (It did not help that French troops now implicated in widespread child abuse stood by as Christian militias mutilated Muslim civilians’ corpses in front of them.)

In May 2014, Hollande announced a large, permanent rapid strike force deployment to five “Sahel-Sahara” West African nations, all of which were majority or plurality Muslim. He sent jets to bomb Iraq in September 2014. Finally, a year later in September 2015 he sent jets to bomb Syria.

It is difficult to understand Hollande’s declaration that the November 2015 Paris attacks are an “act of war” by ISIS, in view of the reality that France has already been at war with ISIS for more than a year.

Note, too, that the United States was barely involved in half of those misguided efforts.

Whether or not it can match U.S. capacity, France is no longer a junior partner or even hapless “sidekick” to the United States’ mayhem. In that sense, Hollande has gone much further than Tony Blair ever did during the Iraq War episode. Blair restrained himself to just being a sidekick.

France under Hollande has turned itself into an active cyclone by pursuing a militarized foreign policy – a strategy that may prove self-defeating. Read more

Libya talks: A pox on both your houses of parliament

A top Libyan Muslim Brotherhood leader has called for the fractured country’s UN-brokered talks to dump both rival expired governments and start over with a wider table that acknowledges power realities on the ground, according to the Libya Herald:

A peace deal had to be based on national consensus, he said. Moreover, it could not ignore those who had power on the ground, such as the Libya Dawn militias in the west of the country, and in the east, not just members of the Benghazi and Derna shoura councils but the Khalifa Hafter’s Operation Dignity as well. Tribal and political leaders equally had to be involved along with elders from across the country and representatives of Sheikh Sadik Al-Ghariani’s Dar Al-Ifta, and even supporters of the former regime.

Any attempt to build peace around the HoR [House of Representatives] and the GNC [General National Congress] would fail, he warned. They were deeply unpopular with the Libyan public and could not contribute to stability in Libya.

 
This is pretty fair given that both rival governments’ democratic mandates have now entirely expired and the last UN negotiator turned out to be secretly on the payroll of the United Arab Emirates, which was bombing one of the sides. It’s also worth noting that his list of participants specifically includes the people most virulently opposed to his own faction, as well as various ideological rivals and quasi-allies.

Map of three coastal cities in Libya. Adapted from Wikimedia.

Map of three coastal cities in Libya. Adapted from Wikimedia.

There’s a zone for us, somewhere a green zone for us

You know the old expression: When one country’s green zone closes

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Friday ordered security forces to grant civilians access to Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone in an apparent bid to stem mounting discontent over poor services and abuse of power.

Protected by countless checkpoints and concrete barriers, the 10-square-kilometre (4-square-mile) area on the bank of the Tigris River has become a symbol of the disconnect between Iraq’s leadership and its people – as well as wreaking havoc on traffic in the city of 7 million.

It once housed the headquarters of the US occupation and before that one of Saddam Hussein’s republican palaces, and is now the seat of government and of several Western embassies.

“The Green Zone is seen by the rest of the population as a protected area for VIPs,” said Middle East expert David Rigoulet-Roze in an interview with FRANCE 24. “The airport being nearby, officials can also get from their office to their plane without having to go through sensitive neighbourhoods.”
[…]
[The policy changes by PM Abadi] are also likely to raise alarm bells among Western diplomats concerned about security threats to embassies located in the Green Zone.

 
…Western diplomats try to find a new one to open.

Western nations, like the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain are banking that a new government of unity would ask them for help to stabilise Libya.

A European diplomat told me they envisioned establishing a “safety zone” in the capital that would protect foreign diplomatic missions using a foreign force.

 
Pretty sure that’s how that saying goes.

Tunisia Attacks: Britain to Blame or Homegrown Threats?

The following analysis was originally published at The Globalist.

Flag-of-Tunisia

After the recent callous murder of 30 British tourists in the holiday resort of Sousse in Tunisia and the earlier attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis, some in the Tunisian security establishment are propelling a new narrative in friendly media (with assistance from willing critics in France and beyond).

According to this new chain of responsibility, it has become much harder in Tunisia to protect the country – and tourists – against the infiltration of terrorists from Libya (partially true — training for both attacks happened there), and that this makes whatever happens ultimately the UK’s fault (not true).

The implication is that the UK and other overly hasty, zealous and/or optimistic Western supporters of the 2011 intervention in Libya now share some responsibility for that country’s plentiful troubles — and by extension Tunisia’s security problems and the deaths of their own citizens.

This alternative explanation is perhaps offered out of frustration with Britain pulling back lucrative tourism relationships or eagerness to escape responsibility at home.

It sounds plausible, even gripping, at first glance. To be sure, Libya’s territory is now essentially lawless, with terrorists roaming freely and a three-way civil war. And Tunisia shares a long land border with Libya. Terrorists do indeed slip rather unimpeded across it into Tunisia.

But does that mean that countries such as the UK bear responsibility for the current struggles of neighboring Tunisia?

Remember cause and effect

That interpretation is not only a bit too convenient for Tunisia, but it also actually inverts some crucial timelines.

In terms of chronological cause-and-effect, some 1,000 Tunisian terrorists may be more responsible for Libyan instability than the other way around.

Certainly, Libya’s violent chaos does not make Tunisia more stable, but Tunisia is fundamentally grappling with a homegrown challenge. In essence, it is the echo effect of long decades of oppression under former ruler Ben-Ali that now leads to all sorts of contortions.

The Arab Spring originated in Tunisia in December 2010. Tunisia is also where the movement for change remains most intact – and where democratic power sharing has tentatively been mastered. However, life could not be changed overnight.

Mass unemployment, particularly among educated youth, remains a huge problem. The police, whose abuses sparked the initial uprising, remain an omnipresent antagonist. The state is flailing on how to guarantee free speech while stopping terrorist recruitment that capitalizes on these frustrations.

But such aggravations are not new and the recruitment is not new, nor is the Libyan war to blame.

Tunisia as a producer of terrorism in the region

Here is the upshot: A few Tunisian towns (PDF download) were contributing an astonishing number of jihadist fighters worldwide (in places like Iraq) before the Arab Spring occurred, let alone the NATO intervention in Libya – or the start of the jihad-magnet war in Syria for that matter.

After that, the floodgates opened and Tunisia reportedly became the absolute largest contributor of foreign fighters.

Thousands of these experienced Tunisian fighters – since 2010 some 3,000 are believed to have “served” in Syria and Iraq, more than from anywhere else – are merely starting to “rotate” back home now. Tunisia already had loose borders with Libya, which makes it easy to get back in.

There are also the would-be global jihadists who are turning inward on Tunisian targets because the government has succeeded in making it (somewhat) harder to reach foreign battlefields like Syria, which is still the primary goal location.

8,000 recruits were prevented from leaving in the first nine months of 2014. (Some are able to make it to Libya for training, but Libyan training of Tunisian terrorists dates to the 1980s. That is also not a new development.)

Tunisia’s recent terrorist attack that claimed so many British lives is one of the few recent incidents in the Middle East-North Africa region for which the UK bears little direct responsibility.

The internal politics of Tunisia – and even the factors for the rise of terrorist recruitment – remain substantially different from the other Arab Spring states. It would be a mistake to lump Tunisia’s challenges in with the rest. An honest assessment will go further toward solving them than misleading blame games.

The radical opposition to Islamic democracy

With Islamic democracy often positioned between pseudo-liberal militarist parties on the economic right and revolutionary, radical Salafism on the economic far-left — and all on the social right to varying degrees — it is important to understand the motivations, activities and ideological details of the competing political options. This site has devoted extensive analysis to the militarists of Egypt and Libya, as well as to the Islamic democrats of Turkey and Tunisia.

But the Islamic democrats across the Middle East North Africa are often confused in the West with the dramatically different radical factions in the Salafist corner. A historical analogy would be the difference between radical communists who opposed liberal elective democracy in principle (and generally boycotted elections or ran but refused to take their seats or govern) and the democratic socialists who accepted liberal democracy as the vehicle to achieve their (milder) policy end-goals.

Libya’s Ansar al-Sharia provides a good lens for seeing the distinctions very clearly between radical Islamic factions and Islamic democratic parties. The eastern Libyan terrorist group was unofficially involved in the impromptu attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi in 2012, but it is also a very complicated group that doesn’t fit into easy boxes, as a new research paper from the conservative Hudson Institute explores. Nonetheless, despite its complexities, the faction contrasts very sharply with Islamic democratic parties such as western Libya’s Justice and Construction Party (JCP).

Ansar al-Sharia are undeniably violent global jihadists and extremely opposed to democracy in principle, unlike the JCP, and they wouldn’t disagree with those characterizations. But beyond their anti-democratic terrorism, they also devoted perhaps more effort than any other such group anywhere in the world toward (mostly illegal) humanitarian activities and sophisticated state-building activities until they began losing support to rival ISIS. Their humanitarian (and bribery) reach extended into Syria, Gaza, and Sudan, as well as their home turf in Libya, until the start of General Hifter’s war against them in early 2014, at which point it rapidly dried up and all energy was re-applied to domestic militancy.

Unlike Hamas or Hezbollah, groups like Ansar al-Sharia are so firmly opposed to democracy — and all its principles and forms — that they reject all party politics and refuse to exist as an organized party. Interestingly, they also sound a lot like fringe American “sovereign citizens,” who reject virtually all governing authority except very select and archaic or common-law authorities (such as sheriffs!); debating the fundamental legitimacy of a police stop with the officer, for example, was an encouraged Ansar al-Sharia activity. Also similar is a penchant for assassinating government officials solely by virtue of their position as government officials, regardless of individual performance or politics.

The group’s anti-American ideology is well-developed, citing not only unilateral US military operations across the Muslim world, but also its history of slavery and Native genocide.

They do not believe in any government not directly ruled at all levels by religious officials answering to textual literalism. Even the Islamic Republic of Iran would be unaccepted (beyond its sectarian religious affiliations with Shia Islam) because it allows extensive roles for non-clerics.

This worldview, not Islamic democracy, is a political threat to the region and to the United States. It refuses to engage with the real, 21st century world in any sense. That is not the case for parties interested in seeking to govern via ballot elections on behalf of the people they represent.

February 25, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 117

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Topics: Right-wing soccer hooliganism, Egypt’s intervention in Libya, Koch Brothers contributions in 2016. People: Bill, Nate, Sasha. Produced: February 23rd, 2015.

Discussion Points:

– What is the relationship between right-wing politics and racist/nationalist soccer hooliganism in Europe?
– What does Egypt’s intervention mean for the war in Libya?
– What impact will the Koch Brothers’ $889 million pledge have on the 2016 elections and US democracy?

Episode 117 (54 min)
AFD 117

Related links
Segment 1

The Guardian: Chelsea fans who shouted racist chants at London station sought by police
The Guardian: Ex-policeman caught up in Chelsea fans’ Paris Métro incident denies he is racist
The Economist: UKIP’s long game: Beyond the beachheads

Segment 2

AFD: Egypt Air Force strikes ISIS of Libya at Derna
Informed Comment: Egypt: Sisi’s struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood and his Strikes on ISIL/ Daesh in Libya

Segment 3

AFD, by Sasha: Let’s talk money
NYT: Koch Brothers’ Budget of $889 Million for 2016 Is on Par With Both Parties’ Spending

Subscribe

RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.