THE STUPIDITY OF THE TRUMP MUSLIM REFUGEE AND VISIT BAN
Harry C. Blaney III
There are few acts by a uninformed and clearly not balanced Donald Trump which have an immediate horrendous impact both at home and abroad. The ban on seven Muslim majority nations is just such an act and it has already enlisted major reactions by people around the world. It is simply a disgrace for America and it is dangerous to our security.
What this executive order on immigration and refugees does is bans Syrian refugees from entering our country, suspends the entire refugee program for 120 days, cuts in half effectively the number of refugees we can admit. It halts all travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.
The reaction at home includes demonstrations around the nations especially at universities and colleges and by churches and civil liberty groups. Harvard and Yale presidents and other academic leaders have denounced this act Many experts believe is counter to our constitution, our laws, and treaty obligations. Already a judge has in effect said so…but without so far Trump complying.
In reaction is an open letter to Trump top national security officials by over 100 National Security Leaders on the Refugee Executive Order. The signers include Madeleine Albright, Janet Napolitano, and Susan Rice, and many others including high level former officials and military from Republican and Democratic administrations. The headline statement was:
“As former cabinet Secretaries, senior government officials, diplomats, military service members and intelligence community professionals who have served in the Bush and Obama administrations, we, the undersigned, have worked for many years to make America strong and our homeland secure. Therefore, we are writing to you to express our deep concern with President Trump’s recent Executive Order directed at the immigration system, refugees and visitors to this country. This Order not only jeopardizes tens of thousands of lives, it has caused a crisis right here in America and will do long-term damage to our national security.”
In Washington even some Republicans are concerned, and the Democrats are considering opposition to this on a number of fronts. Chaos prevails at our airports and airlines and in governments around the world. It was denounced by leaders in Germany and France and on the floor of the House of Commons.
It is clear to me that this action was without much doubt the deliberate act of designed chaos and cruelty by Donald Trump likely aided and abated by Stephen Bannon the Alt-Right racist, bigoted Trump campaign leader and past editor of the white power media outlet Breitbart News and now counselor to the President with equal status to the White House Chief-of-Staff and now a member of the highly sensitive and powerful National Security Council and the committee of Principles (Cabinet and agency heads) which he will attend as a full member – in effect perhaps a spy on other member views, or voice for the far racist right at home and abroad and enforcer of Trump’s crazy far right policies and lies.
This act is a test of what we may see going forward in foreign and national security policy. Already Trump has upset and weakened our ties to our key allies that are aghast at his recent statement, tweets and actions which undermine NATO, EU and the UN. In particular, they have undermined our allies and embolden Russia’s Vladimir Putin to hope he can destroy Western unity and strength and prosperity and weaken its defense. All this hardly lifting a finger but letting Trump do his dirty work. Already trump has helped Putin by supporting disunity in Europe by his encouragement of Brexit and putting down NATO, and favoring of far right fascist groups in Europe.
We need to ask quickly why and at what cost to peace and security for us and our allies?
On Friday, Donald Trump nominated retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis, who served more than 40 years in the Marine Corps. According to the press, Trump said to a rally Thursday night in Cincinnati: “We are going to appoint ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis as our Secretary of Defense.”
General Mattis is by all accounts a mixed bag. Some say he has a number of redeeming qualities and others see him as an undisciplined character who from time to time gets into trouble with his mouth and his policy perspectives and actions. Nothing new in Washington!
There is also two problem areas: one is a conflict of interest with a blood testing firm that has problems with the FDA, and the other is that there is a rule that bans a retired military officer serving as Defense Secretary until he has been retired for at least seven years. According to the reports, word from Capitol Hill hints Congress will exempt Mattis from the ban. But he is likely to be given close scrutiny by the Senate Armed Forces Committee at his hearing for the post.
This may be unfortunate as he may take with him all the preconceived military perspectives and may look at key issues with a stove pipe perspective that an experienced civilian secretary would not and must weigh and be able to question effectively the advice of the “generals.” We need to remember that the US generals advising John F. Kennedy all recommend preemptive massive bombing of Cuba in the crisis of the 1961, which would have resulted in a nuclear war since the Russian commander in Cuba had nuclear weapons in place and had been authorized to use them on the US without further orders. This would have been a global catastrophe. Diplomacy by elected civilians saved the world from that result.
This appointment has special need for care. The Secretary of Defense is in the line of command on the use of nuclear weapons. Enough said.
General background of “Mad Gog” General Mattis:
The Mad Dog tag in question was retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis, who for more than 40 years served in the Marine Corps. The 66-year-old general, called a “warrior monk” by his peers for his depth of knowledge and lack of family — he never married — is also known to turn a memorable phrase, including: “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” (Washington Post, 12/2/2016)
Mattis in 2001 was a one-star general who led a task force of more than 1,000 Marines on a mission in Kandahar province in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, led the seizure of the airport there establishing an early coalition command centers in the country. He commanded in 2002 a division of Marines during the invasion of Iraq and returning in 2004 to lead the savage urban combat in Fallujah. Mattis, had an assignment with the NATO’s supreme allied command and has warned that the Russian president is trying to “break NATO apart.” He finally served as the head of the U.S. Central Command, the combatant command that is in charge of U.S. wars in the Middle East. He was commander of Centcom from 2010 to 2013 when his assignment was cut short for some say differences with President regarding dealing with Iran which he saw as a major threat. In that capacity, he oversaw the surge of forces in Afghanistan and the start of the Syrian civil war. Mattis is now a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Here in simple format are the pros and cons:
ONE THE POSITIVE SIDE:
Mattis does not share the islamophobia of the appointed National Security Advisor to Trump which is a good thing and may temper stupid acts that would worsen the situation in the Middle East and beyond. There are reports that he urged his troops in Iraq to be sensitive to local feelings and work with the local people. But Lt. General Flynn at the NSC will be far closer to power and Trump the final decision-maker, along with his prejudices which are well known bringing some of his weaknesses in terms of facts and reality.
On the question of torture, Trump told the New York Times that he was very impressed and might even rethink his position on torture, which he advocated using throughout the campaign. Specifically Trump said:
“General Mattis is a strong, highly dignified man. I met with him at length and I asked him that question. I said, what do you think of waterboarding? He said — I was surprised — he said, “I’ve never found it to be useful.” He said, “I’ve always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture.” And I was very impressed by that answer.” (Note: It is illegal to use torture, especially by the military.)
There are a host of former military leaders and some outside military and strategic analysts that think Mattis wold be a good pick given the ignorance and instability of Trump. One problem is that often both the Secretaries of Defense and of State are not present when a president makes a key strategic decision and often it is only the National Security Advisor who is there along with the White House Chief-of-Staff whose knowledge of strategic and war issues is normally quite limited. In the case of Lt. General Flynn the chosen NSC head, his past behavior and prejudices are indicators of a not very balanced mind with too many blinders in his perspective. Can Mattis prove a balance to irrationality time will only tell.
Mattis’ long experience on the high level military front as noted above is a positive.
Of interest, is that the present Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a statement: “I have known General Jim Mattis for many years and hold him in the highest regard,” adding that he would work to facilitate a “seamless transition.”
ON THE NEGATIVE SIDE:
Mattis holds strong feeling against Iran and initially the Iran deal. Absent that deal the consequences could have led America into a war and and without it permit or lead Iran to start building nuclear weapons free of the strong constraints of the Iran agreement. But that attitude is balanced by Mattis more recent support for the Iran nuclear deal which he believes should remain in place with very strict oversight of compliance.
He is said to have a bias towards the Sunni gulf nations and prejudice against the Shia sides of Islam.
He has, as others have noted, little experience in Asia which looms as a key strategic theater and needs high level focus on its many high risks.
There is a real danger that at the NSC meetings of principals there will be a large set of former high level military officers at the table who may have a unified and “uniform” perspective but a wrong one from a long-term strategic and diplomatic perspective. The first thought of this group may be to “make war” with military intervention rather that to “make peace” and apply diplomatic tools to problems solving. Most problems often need a diplomatic answer in order to not become needlessly involved in risky adventures with no positive outcome in sight and with great cost.
Much will come out in the Congressional hearings on this top key appointment and we will also see to what degree that Mattis can influence now Trump towards a more thoughtful approach to foreign and national security affairs and risks.
Finally, a new added set of possible prospects for Secretary of State have emerge over the weekend and this week, which frankly from reports are not looking to be the top people one would hope for. But they are saying a decision will be made this week. More on this in another post.
We welcome your comments, click here to make a comment.
In this series, we will be looking at positions taken by the Democratic Party in their 2016 Platform on issues pertaining to national security. Next up is the Middle East. A commentary on the platform issue will be found at its end.
The Syrian crisis is heartbreaking and dangerous, and its impact is threatening the region, Europe, and beyond. Donald Trump would inflame the conflict by alienating our allies, inexplicably allowing ISIS to expand in Syria, and potentially starting a wider war. This is a reckless approach. Democrats will instead root out ISIS and other terrorist groups and bring together the moderate Syrian opposition, international community, and our regional allies to reach a negotiated political transition that ends Assad’s rule. Given the immense scale of human suffering in Syria, it is also imperative that we lead the international community in providing greater humanitarian assistance to the civilian victims of war in Syria and Iraq, especially displaced refugees.
In Afghanistan, we will work with the NATO-led coalition of partners to bolster the democratically-elected government as it assumes a primary role in tackling terrorism, forges a more secure future for the country, and safeguards advances, like securing women’s rights. Democrats will continue to push for an Afghan-led peace process and press both Afghanistan and Pakistan to deny terrorists sanctuary on either side of the border. We support President Obama’s decision to maintain a limited troop presence in Afghanistan into 2017 and ensure that Afghanistan never again serves as a haven for terrorists to plan and launch attacks on our homeland.
We support the nuclear agreement with Iran because, as it is vigorously enforced and implemented, it verifiably cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb without resorting to war. We reject Donald Trump’s view that we should have walked away from a deal that peacefully dismantles Iran’s nuclear program. We will continue the work of this administration to ensure that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon and will not hesitate to take military action if Iran races towards one.
Democrats will also address the detrimental role Iran plays in the region and will robustly enforce and, if necessary, strengthen non-nuclear sanctions. Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism. It violates the human rights of its population, denies the Holocaust, vows to eliminate Israel, and has its fingerprints on almost every conflict in the Middle East. Democrats will push back against Iran’s destabilizing activities including its support for terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, counter Iran’s ballistic missile program, bolster the capabilities of our Gulf partners, and ensure that Israel always has the ability to defend itself. Finally, Democrats recognize that the Iranian people seek a brighter future for their country and greater engagement with the international community. We will embrace opportunities for cultural, academic and other exchanges with the Iranian people.
The Middle East is a region in turmoil with no good or easy answers either for nations in the region or for Western governments. The fundamentals of insecurity remain the Sunni-Shia divide and the rise of ISIS and other terrorist groups that thrive on this divide in the Muslim community. There are a lot of issues that are missing in this section of the Democratic platform. Not least is directly the problems of the Gulf Sates like Saudi Arabia and Yemen, as well as a discussion on Libya.
On Syria, the key statement about the country – that the “crisis is heartbreaking and dangerous, and its impact is threatening the region, Europe, and beyond” – is correct. Yet the landscape is so dark and complex that a clear path forward is not only very difficult, it is near impossible without the cooperation of all the major powers in the region. However, this is not currently forthcoming, as Egypt, Turkey, and other players are in internal disarray. Additionally, the Sunni-Shia conflict still badly needs resolution, which seems out of reach without long-term work to heal.
What can and should be done more specifically is deal with the real, major, and dire humanitarian situation. We need now to start to look at a humanitarian space which can at last be effectively enforced by multi-lateral peacekeeping/peace-protecting forces that include Muslim, Western, and other nations, along with needed support with major resources to create a cordon of protection and safety.
Supporting “moderate” forces remains a work in progress that must be reinforced. Yet all of this must, in the end, lead to Assad’s removal in order to create lasting peace. Russia must recognize the need to change its strategy and re-assess its interests, and see a crisis that is heartbreaking, dangerous, and one that’s impact is threatening the stability of the entire region. Europe, America, Russia, and beyond need to acquiesce to a real compromise that ends with a broad based multi-group governmental coalition based on ensured security of all ethnic groups. Not least, what is needed is a major rebuilding of society – which will need a large amount of funding – for a region that has been decimated by hate and a brutal regime. The United Nations and other international organizations need to be involved.
The Afghanistan section essentially is a reiteration of the Obama Administration’s existing strategy, which tries to combine a certain limited US military presence with support for the Afghan government’s efforts to do what is necessary to bring security and a measure, at last, of a responsible government to the nation.
Progress, though slow and with many setbacks, have been made against ISIS and other terrorists groups. There is no mention of addressing the major problem of deep corruption that undermines true security and stability and the building of a measure of democracy. Part of the answer must be to restore some common security and economic improvement in the lives of the common citizen. This means Pakistan must act to stop its actions to destabilize Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.
Iraq stands as another battlefield that needs a comprehensive approach – military action alone will not fix the ills we now see in that nation.
Iran remains a work in progress and the Democratic Platform outlines the right path forward because no honest observer can deny that the Iran nuclear agreement is at the heart of ensuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapons for a very long time. The platform acknowledges that all of the other problems of Iran must be addressed, likely one-by-one, and we need to find some common ground. An aggressive stance is self-defeating for that country, and some are starting to recognize this, but it is a slow process. We need a long-term strategy to nudge Iran towards peace and help it to take a more cooperative stance in the region.
What is clear is that the Democratic platform is by far more realistic, more likely to result in a better outcome, less risk prone, and less likely to make the region even more unstable than much of Donald Trump’s own views and those of the GOP that unthinking hostility towards diplomacy and conciliation, raw hostility, and mindless use of military threats and bluster are.
PART II : THE YEAR 2015: A LOOK BACKWARD FOR GLOBAL SECURITY AND PEACE
Harry C. Blaney III
Beyond the specifics of our fractured and conflict ridden world covered in Part I of this two part series, are questions about the contributions or the follies of our national and global leaders and of our institutions and in the end concerned and impacted citizens.
We want to add some thoughts about the import of events in 2015 that are in some ways emblematic of the global landscape we live in and provided either new difficult challenges or show hopeful paths for America and the international community.
THE ISSUE OF GLOBAL LEADERS AND OUR SECURITY: FINDING COOPERATION
2015 was a year where there also was a real effort of some global leaders to find areas of agreement, of conciliation, of paths to peace and reduction of nuclear weapons and dealing with terrorism in intelligent ways. The first part of this series saw some very dark events and some acts by leaders that contributed to hatred, conflict, inequality, and bigotry. While others tried to mitigate these catastrophes. The results were indeed mixed.
This balance between peacemakers and authoritarian and malevolent “disrupters” and war-makers has been through all of human history and 2015 was not exception. Examples are below of this on going struggle.
DISINTEGRATION VERSES INTEGRATION, THE MIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION CRISIS, TERRORISM, AND GLOBAL WARMING
THE EUROPEAN CHALLENGE
The key challenges for Europe are immigration, keeping Britain in the EU fold, getting rid of austerity and getting the economy on a growth pattern. It also was addressing terrorism within and abroad, facing inequality which threatens stability, and the growth of fascists and racist and extreme right-wing governments and parties. And also defining the relationship with America, an aggressive Russia and rising China in a constructive way.
Angela Merkel, who I have criticized for her economic austerity policies towards Greece and other weak EU states, came through initially in 2015 as a moral leader in support of refugees feeling death and conflict which seems to have cost her support at home. Her fate in 2016 will hinge not only on gaining some consensus within Germany for helping and accepting the refugees but for leading the EU towards a broader and more effective set of policies and actions which will make for a peaceful settlement and fair sharing of the burden. Immigration in 2015 was truly a challenge almost un-precedented and was largely an event that divided Europe and its reactions engendered more disunity and irresponsible acts and policies.
2015 was a year Britain went down the dangerous path towards possible separation of Scotland which thankfully failed – not thanks to Prime Minister Cameron. Cameron made the decision to hold a referendum to leave the EU and a vote is set for 2016. Merkel will also be key in helping keep the UK in the EU when the forces in Britain of the small minded Tory Euro-skeptics and the British equivalent of our Republican Tea Party bigots want to separate from the EU. Further there was and continues a dangerous move and sentiment within Europe against not only immigration but also the EU and the “FORE Project” which is the keystone for peace and stability and yes democracy in the region. The leaders of Europe did not in 2015 face fully up to these challenges.
FRANCE TO THE FORE?
What was seen as a weak French socialist president Hollande, turned out to be seen by many as strong in dealing with terrorism in Africa, and recently in his stance during the Paris attacks in November and the lead host of the Paris Climate change meeting. France in some ways has come to replace the British as a more reliable partner on a number of key issues. Their decision to contribute planes and resources to the allied bombing efforts in Syria and Iraq was an unexpected act. They were more involved in dealing with Russia on Ukraine, in the Iran nuclear deal, and took on anti-terrorism responsibilities in Africa.
THE BRITISH RETREAT?
Prime Minister David Cameron, on the other hand, did a lot of talking and little real action. While supporting UK continued membership in the EU he mismanaged in 2014 and 2015 the process of the vote on EU membership that is planned to take place in 2016. Should UK leave the EU the consensus of experts is it would be a disaster for Britain (and for Europe also).
He has failed to quiet the separatist tides in Scotland after the vote to stay united by a totally irresponsible handling of promises that were made for increased Scottish home rule. Not least he has move toward anti-immigration moves to mitigate the influence of such parties as the UK Independent Party with its racist, anti-EU, and isolationist tendencies. Wining the election in 2015 with a clear majority in Parliament but not in the nation was a plus for him, but it led to a doubling down on arch-conservative programs to punish the poor and to enhance the very rich. In the end this can’t but reap harm to Britain in the world.
DEPLORING WORLD’S WOES!
Economic growth overall in the developing nations was disappointing and the growth of conflict in places like Africa and Middle East hurt as did growing debts and political disarray. Leadership in the developing world was in too many cases a disaster for these countries with a few making efforts against an overwhelming tide of despair, corruption, and disparity of wealth and power. On a upward note, Castro in Cuba decided to respond to Obama’s outreach, China’s leaders helped at last on climate change/ environment, and India also finally went along when it was a spoiling nation with the Paris accords. Key in 2015 and will be in 2016, is efforts to start a rapprochement between the near warring nuclear weaponed India and Pakistan. A number of countries had mostly democratic elections including Burma, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Burma. And there were game changing elections in Argentina, Venezuela, and the Central African Republic,
AMERICA’S ROLE IN CRISIS MANAGEMENT AND RECONCILIATION
Notable above all, has been President Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry who carried often much of the globe on their shoulders. They got India and China to finally do something constructive on climate change, more than anyone Obama and Kerry got the Iran agreement through in negotiations and in the Congress. Establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba was a major breakthrough for both sides. Obama proposed both the Atlantic and Pacific trade packs which still remain controversial, but envisions a more united world economically and has strategic significance. 2016 will see how these two initiatives progress.
A key wise outcome was the administration kepting its promise not to do “stupid things” and kept their caution and steely focus on what could be done effectively and at least cost. It has shown some results. They saw their judgement and policies make some progress in 2015 and into 2016 with notable victories, with little American blood lost, in Iraq with the retaking of Ramadi and other towns. They revised our strategy in Syria with progress by American supported Kurd forces taking key points and pushing the Islamic State back from important towns and sites but some mixed results. But with a little advancement by the Syrian opposition forces. The Syrian quagmire became even more difficult after Putin’s 2015 intervention and Russian bombing of opposition forces.
But the simply fact is that U.S. and allied precise bombing and intelligence has been critical for success, despite being downplayed by the neo-cons and their hawkish Republican followers, who seem blindly want more vulnerable troops on the ground as proof of their on-the-cheep “toughness.” In fact we saw that added allied bombing was taking place.
The key still remains our diplomatic efforts. The UN Security Council with American and allied nations, and even Russia agreement, voted on a path towards possible peace and a new Syrian governance structure. This effort is filled with uncertainties, but promises more hope than would getting mass American combat troops sent to be killed by the Islamic State terrorist on their home turf. I see this as a use of “smart power” while the GOP still seems, as they did in Iraq under Bush II earlier, decide to use “stupid power” and play the terrorist’s game.
AMERICAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS AND THE GLOBAL ORDER
The debates in 2015, especially those of the Republican candidates revealed how dangerous our atrocious politics have become for the security if the rest of the world. 2015 showed how unbalanced our nation could become and how one major party has so gone off the deep end that even the fair right creator of this condition in Republican politics, Charles Koch in a Financial Times interview said that he was “disappointed” by the current crop of Republican presidential candidates and resigned to having to support one with whom he agrees on only some issues. He thinks his issues are not being addressed. He is unhappy with the positions of Trump and Cruz on dealing with Muslims! And perhaps more? There is more irony in this as he has probably been more responsible for the GOP crazies we have today than any other person on this earth! Yet he would support any crazy according to his statement rather than any Democrat.
The other trend in our nation in 2015 and before has been the universal effort by the Republican candidates to beat up on Obama and especially to call him “weak” mostly focusing on his caution about using massive ground forces in Syria and Iraq. Trump started this idea of “No energy” not only against Obama and also his GOP opponents, but it has become a chorus by all the rest of what can be fairly described as the worst group of would-be presidents in American history. Each has done all they could either in their official capacity or on the campaign trail to undermined American power and interests around the world by their irresponsible statements, policies, or votes. They have been indifferent on how they are viewed by other nations. Just their presence in 2015 and the possibility that any one of them might be president sends shudders down most allied leaders and many of their educated citizens.
This is a world of interdependence, globalized as some would have it, and this is the high level information world where people everywhere hear what is said by global leaders and would be leaders via TV and the internet.
So goodby 2015, and we will look at the prospects for 2016 soon.
Military fighting has reached its 14th year in Afghanistan, making this the first year of less foreign troops on the ground. President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan has made it very clear that this war is ongoing and the last thing Afghan troops can do is become complacent. The recent loss (to the Taliban) and take back (by government forces) of the Northern populated city, Kunduz, has made the Afghan government very worried about its own security ability. Afghanistan’s NATO-trained Forces are, for the first time, at the forefront of the fight. Current U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan includes about 10,000 U.S. troops training, advising, and assisting the Afghan security forces.
What’s equally as important to recognize along with the rise of the Taliban, and military efforts to stop them, are the civilians caught in the crossfire. Matters have been worsened with the fatal U.S. airstrikes that accidently hit a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital killing 22 people including patients, children, and staff. Days before the fatal U.S. attack, the medical team treated 171 wounded, 46 of which were children, in a matter of three days at the height of the Taliban takeover, as released in a statement by MSF. A majority suffered from gunshot wounds leaving surgeons treating severe abdominal, limb, and head injuries, and thus illustrating the vital role this organization plays in providing vital care for the civilians caught in the path of the Taliban.
The government has taken back control of Kunduz, and the Ministry has oversight of all 34 provinces in Afghanistan, according to Interior Minister Noor-ul-Haq Ulumi. This occurrence was not only the biggest victory for the Taliban since 2001, but also a huge setback for the Afghan government that is struggling to fight insurgents without the aid of the United States and NATO. Although the U.S. intervened in the situation by providing airstrikes, it does not come without the unwanted and unneeded casualties that resulted in the striking of a Doctors Without Borders hospital, an attack the Pentagon must now answer to.
Joanne Liu, the President of MSF, is working on the presumption of a war crime, as the organization believes this is a breech in International Humanitarian Law, which states that hospitals in conflict zones are protected spaces. Her argument is met with a full investigation according to U.S. General in Afghanistan, Army General John Campbell, who has also testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on October 6th. U.S. statements on the issue have transformed over time, as first it was recognized as collateral damage, then as a source of self-defense in which the attack was done in the vicinity of the hospital, to finally stating the U.S. was asked for air support by Afghan forces. In response to these events, Gen. Campbell made it very clear while testifying that the “hospital was mistakenly struck,” and “[they] would never intentionally target a protected medical facility.”
Whatever may be the case, most likely to unravel soon, NATO and the Afghan government have launched separate investigations while officials from MSF have much doubt over the U.S. military’s ability to conduct their own. Between the rise of the Taliban, potentially inadequate Afghani forces, and the death of innocent civilians by a U.S. airstrike, it becomes difficult to understand what the Obama administration will do moving forward, as it once hoped to continue significantly decreasing troops in Afghanistan by 2016, a plan that may now be adjusted and redirected. In this context, General Campbell made it clear before Congress that his view was that US troops would have to stay beyond 2016 to support Afghan forces and ensure the Taliban does not make further gains, telling the House Armed Services Committee that “if we came down to 1,000 there is no counterterrorism structured force in those numbers.” With this, Campbell making the point that Afghan forces still need much help such as close air support and intelligence.
These events in Afghanistan raise the ultimate question of the type of military presence the U.S. will have in this country. The White House is considering changes to its plan of bringing troops in Afghanistan to fewer than 1,000 by 2016. President Obama is now currently considering a proposal by Army General Martin E. Dempsey to keep as many as 5,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2016; those forces left would focus primarily on counterterrorism against the Islamic State, and al-Qaeda.
Recently, at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Defense Secretary Ash Carter discussed further plans in Afghanistan before the NATO defense ministers. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, Carter explained the three main actions the United States is taking; The U.S. will maintain close to 10,000 troops through the end of this year, begin to formulate options for 2016 and beyond, and adjust the planned U.S. presence in Afghanistan based on the current situation. NATO is awaiting a decision by the Obama administration for future action in Afghanistan to decide the organization’s next steps, although Carter has made it clear that, “NATO allies reaffirm their commitment- discussing not whether but how to continue the mission in Afghanistan.” It has been said by U.S. officials that this post 2016 decision will be released soon, most likely in opposition to President Obama’s dreamed of legacy, officially taking all troops out of Afghanistan.
Foreword: Chelsea Kaser is the current National Security Intern at the Center for International Policy for the Spring of 2015. She conducted research on Chinese and Afghan relations before writing this post. She currently attends Muhlenberg College, where she concentrates on peace and conflict resolution and Russian studies. She hopes to attend graduate school after obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies.
By: Chelsea Kaser
Since 2014, China has become much more diplomatically engaged with Afghanistan. Several factors have raised the interest of Beijing in securing a more stable and secure Afghanistan. For both national security and economic needs, Chinese leaders have not only given substantial economic aid to the country, but also supported and even hosted peace talks with the Afghan Taliban. However, because of border disputes with India and China, as well as historical tension between India and Pakistan, several other aspects have come into play with this newly diplomatic relationship between Beijing and Kabul.
In February 2014, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Kabul and indicated China would support Afghanistan in achieving “smooth political, security, and economic transitions.” In October 2014, China also hosted the fourth foreign minister’s meeting of the Istanbul Process, and international efforts launched in 2011 to encourage cooperation and coordination between Afghanistan and its neighbors and regional partners. In this way, China showed desire to take initiative in promoting a smooth power transfer after Afghanistan’s 2014 presidential election and a stable security transition following the gradual withdrawal of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops an U.S forces in December of 2014.
In January 2015, during a speech marking the 60th anniversary of China-Afghan relations, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said, “We hope that China will play a proactive role in bringing peace to Afghanistan, because whatever the Chinese do, they do it according to a plan and with focus. Now, as they have become involved, we will witness more steps toward achieving peace.” And in February 2015, the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue that includes China, Afghanistan and Pakistan met for the first time in Kabul, highlighting new Chinese desire to engage with Afghanistan diplomatically. At this meeting, two decisions were highlighted: (1) China agreed to support relevant proposals such as strengthening highway and rail links between Afghanistan and Pakistan including Kunar Hydroelectric Dam, pushing forward connectivity and enhancing economic integration and (2) China and Afghanistan support Pakistan holding the fifth Foreign Ministerial Conference of the Istanbul Process on Afghanistan and the three sides agreed to strengthen coordination and cooperation on this matter.
Economically, China also has given several types of aid. In 2014 alone, China provided Afghanistan with a total of 500 million yuan (80 million USD) and pledged an additional 1.5 billion yuan (240 million) over the next three years. These numbers are substantially larger than any aid that the Chinese have given in previous years, and has promoted economic stability in a country that is rising from over a decade of war. China also promised to provide 500 scholarships for Afghan students to study in China as well as training to 3,000 Afghan professionals in various fields including counterterrorism, anti-drug trafficking, agriculture, and diplomacy. Another big factor that has created closer cooperation between China and Afghanistan is the Silk Road Economic Belt Initiative. This proposal shows Chinese efforts to focus less on domestic issues and become more involved in a widely regional sense. Under this initiative, China aims to create a modern Silk Road Economic Belt and a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road to boost trade and extend its global influence. Projects under the plan include a network of railways, highways, oil and gas pipelines, power grids, and other infrastructure links across Central, West and South Asia to as far as Greece and Russia, increasing China’s connections to Europe and Africa.
Now the big question is, why has China invested so much into Afghanistan? Besides the obvious benefit of the Silk Road Initiative in terms of opening up trade, Chinese diplomatic involvement is mostly about Afghanistan stability. A stable Afghanistan means two things for China, (1) To be able to create this Silk Road Initiative, Afghanistan must be a key player, as Kandahar is being considered as a central stop on the trade route, and (2) To control the Muslim majority Uighur population in the Xinhang province, which resides in Northwestern China and shares a small border with both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Chinese leaders fear with the close proximity the Xinhang province is to both Afghanistan and Pakistan, that it is especially vulnerable to the effects of terrorism and extremism, posing a great threat to Chinese national security. Without Afghan stability, the Xinhang province will be harder to control and keep stabilized.
This second concept was made a real fear in October 2013, when a car crashed in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, in what police described as a terrorist suicide attack. Five people were killed and another thirty-eight were injured. Chinese police described it as a “major incident”and as the first terrorist attack in Beijing’s recent history. The other most recent attack was in March 2014 at the Kunming train station. The incident, targeted against civilians, left 29 civilians and 4 perpetratorsdead with more than 140 others injured.The attack has been called a “massacre” by some news media. Both male and female attackers were seen to pull out long-bladed knives and proceed to stab and slash passengers. Although no one group took responsibility for either attack, there was evidence in both that pointed to the Uighur Insurgency in the Xinhang province. With these heightened security concerns, it is not in the least surprising that China has taken a lead in stabilizing Afghanistan and supporting the new government among other things.
Another factor that has played into China’s role in Afghanistan is its neighbor, Pakistan. Pakistan’s role is quite interesting, as it is connected to China’s involvement in Taliban peace talks and has become a growing regional nuclear threat. Pakistan has the world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal; and as of recently, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, announced that he had approved a new deal to purchase eight diesel-electric submarines from China, which could be equipped with nuclear missiles, for an estimated $5 billion. Last month, Pakistan test-fired a ballistic missile that appears capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to any part of India. China is using its good relations with Pakistan to cultivate more cooperation in peace talks with the Taliban, as Pakistan has closer ties with some the organizations’ leaders. China and Pakistan’s alliance is both beneficial militarily and economically. Beijing’s ambitious Silk Road Initiative is integrated with CPEC (Chinese Pakistan Economic Corridor), a channel for trade running from China across South and Central Asia. CPEC involves major overhaul of infrastructure, with rail roads, pipelines, and ports in a bid to ease the energy crisis and increase investment in Pakistan. Militarily, both countries recently made a $6.5 billion commitment to build a new nuclear power plant in Karachi.
This alliance does not help India’s interests, as both India and China have taken great measures in assisting Afghanistan in its political transition. India has given $2 billion for a number of areas of infrastructural development, capacity building, rural development, and education. They have also spent some time training Afghan military and police. However, because of India and China’s rocky relationship as well as India being a “common enemy” to both Beijing and Pakistan, India likely does not have a chance in competing in Afghanistan for power.
As far as the Taliban peace talks go, China has a lot to lose if this peace process fails. China is well-equipped to take on the role of peacemaker, as it is a major power in the region and has a great degree of political influence. China also has a lot invested in these talks, as its national security and economic prosperity with the Silk Road Initiative are big factors at stake. Ensuring Afghanistan security and stability creates a risk for China, and if they do not succeed, its credibility will most likely be damaged.
With the United States, at some point, removing the last of its troops out of Afghanistan, there is a question of whether or not China will be the next “U.S. in the country.” Is China filling the void left by the likely U.S withdrawal from Afghanistan? Although the answer is uncertain, China has invested too much into Afghanistan’s infrastructure to try to create stability to let Afghanistan falter again, but it is nearly impossible that Beijing will ever invade Afghanistan like the U.S. did. China will likely continue to invest in Afghanistan and be involved in reconciliation with the Taliban until a time when it becomes pointless, as this is there number one priority is promoting a stable Afghan government.
As far as U.S policy should be concerned, China’s involvement in Afghanistan is not an immediate threat. China could prove the ultimate winner in Afghanistan, having shed no blood and only giving economic aid for stability purposes. China’s involvement in Afghanistan is not a potential threat to U.S power, and if this involvement is completely benign, it will continue to not be a threat. We should be happy that the transition of the government in Kabul is going rather smoothly. However, Chinese involvement is a “mixed bag”; if it uses its influence to gain power in the region and not for stabilizing Afghanistan alone, the threat to U.S power will become evident. One of the most serious threats that could come of this is Chinese and Pakistan’s nuclear ties, as growing, destabilizing nuclear forces will continue to be one of the biggest national security threats for the region, and for the United States, in years to come.
We welcome your comments!
Recently, the New York Times Editorial Board published this article, titled ” China’s Big Plunge in Pakistan”. The article is below:
“President Xi Jinping of China showed up in Pakistan this week with one of his government’s most powerful weapons — money, and lots of it. He signed agreements worth more than $28 billion as part of a total promised investment of some $46 billion in a new “Silk Road,” an ambitious land-and-sea-based economic corridor connecting China to Europe and the Middle East through Pakistan, Central Asia and Russia.
The corridor is intended to shorten the route for China’s energy imports from the Middle East by bypassing the Straits of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia, which could be blocked in war. Pakistan and its neighbors would unquestionably also benefit from this project if it can be completed.
Pakistani officials said that about $10 billion would be invested in infrastructure projects, including a deepwater port at Gwadar on the Arabian Sea, with rails and roads leading from the port across Baluchistan Province into western China. The route from Gwadar to Xinjiang Province in China would be a shortcut for trade between Europe and China. Up to $37 billion is earmarked for coal-based power plants, hydropower plants and solar parks to fill Pakistan’s huge energy needs.
For China, the investment also addresses issues of national security. China fears that Muslim separatists in Xinjiang, one of China’s most restive regions, are being influenced by militants in Pakistan, which has been battling an insurgency for more than a decade.
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia have missed out on Asia’s economic boom, leaving them vulnerable to unrest. Ideally, China’s project would promote growth in Pakistan, weaken the extremists, encourage the Pakistani Army to support peace efforts in Afghanistan and begin to knit together a fragmented region with new development and trade.
There’s reason to be skeptical. The United States pursued many of the same goals when it poured $31 billion into Pakistan between 2002 and 2014, yet achieved little. One problem was that most of the American money was military aid. Congress was finally persuaded to authorize $7.5 billion in development aid in 2009, but by then the United States was in economic distress and fed up with the duplicity of Pakistani Army leaders who took counterterrorism aid from Washington while also working with militant groups against American interests.
China’s government is flush with money and has considered Pakistan among its closest allies since the 1970s. It may have learned from America’s mistakes by going big on development and targeting assistance to specific needs. But it will face the problems of Pakistani corruption and incompetence that the Americans experienced, as well as safety issues. Much of the construction would occur in Baluchistan, in southwest Pakistan, where a separatist movement has been fighting for independence from the central government for decades and could threaten Chinese workers.
Some suggest the project will further enhance China’s standing in Asia at America’s expense. But that is perhaps too narrow a view. Both the United States and China share an interest in a stable Pakistan. If China can advance that goal through development programs, the whole region would benefit.” (April 23, 2015)
2014 A “RETHINKING NATIONAL SECURITY” YEAR:: WHAT DOES IT PORTEND?
By Harry C. Blaney III
2014 was without much doubt a significant year in terms of global security. One question is whether 2014 has set a trend in the makeup of our international order in the future and to what extent? The events of 2014 were at many levels transformative but also show much continuity with the recent past trends.
Terrorism took on a new guise in the rise of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, and “caliphate”), with the fierce occupation by this extraordinarily brutal group of large areas in both Iraq and Syria. The emergence of added conflicts and upheavals in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and the Sunni-Shia divide were continuing factors of instability. But less mentioned is the serious question of unstable and nuclear armed Pakistan’s trajectory and that of nuclear India which is being reshaped still as this is written with unknown consequences.
Another event of special note was the end of an assumed understanding about the security and inviolability of the boundaries and independence of existing European states by the invasion and occupation of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine by Russian troops and paid mercenaries. With the annexation of Crimea, and now continued fighting and uncertainty over the fate of Eastern Ukraine, the viability and security of the entire country has changed radically the landscape of Central and eastern Europe and beyond.
NATO has reassessed its role and the implication of these actions resulted in agreement to establish a more robust “rapid reaction force.” America also has assigned a “rotating” troop and air armed units to the Baltic States. Putin has recently called NATO a threat to Russia and the new Russian strategic plan seems a bit more aggressive than earlier.
Not least, with this external belligerence towards what Russian nationalists call “The Near Afar” or “Near Abroad” – their neighborly countries, – Putin has established increasingly harsh authoritarian rule over Russia and its people proper. This development is as important to global security and stability as is the Ukraine invasion and conflict. The two seem to be intertwined and have indeed been fed by Putin and his cronies heating up a new “fascistic” Russian xenophobia and militaristic nationalism.
This effort can be attributed to the perceived need by Putin to shore up his domestic support in light of an increasingly economic catastrophe that Russia seems to be experiencing at the end of 2014; all due to Putin’s costly international blunders and foolish economic choices. Even Putin has acknowledged in his New Year’s message that Russia faces hard times ahead.
At home, the same neo-cons that got us into an unneeded and disastrous war in Iraq, and ran the Afghanistan war mindlessly and incompetently now wrongly depict Putin and Russia as stronger, which is absurd given the real impact of sanctions, the fall in the price of oil and gas, and the precipitous fall of the Ruble. This argument was not only predominant in one major neo-con publication but has been picked up by the right-wing GOP hawks who if they had their way would have us still deep in the mud of “endless war.”
The reality is the increased isolation of Putin personally and of Russia. Their economy ever fragile is now in real recession and week in many sectors. Global leaders realize, as do investors, that Russia under Putin is a risky place to place any bets on. This new realization by many is that Russia is in the hands of an incompetent, arbitrary, and illusionary leader who seems to care not a bit about the well being of his country’s people. Russia is weaker today than at the start of 2014 despite all of its aggression and seems destined to fall further under Putin’s harsh hand unless there is a major change of course. None of this is good news for the West, however, given the uncertainty of Russian behavior.
On the contrary, America, led by President Obama and with the help of Secretary John Kerry and his team, is clearly in ascendancy, but largely unnoticed by our U.S. media or acknowledged by the Republicans. With the U.S. showing a recent 5% growth rate, better job numbers, and closer cooperation with Europe, it remains at the center of global decision-making and power.
Further, with the negotiations with China over climate change successful, the continued push for Atlantic and Pacific free trade treaties, and the hope of successful nuclear talks with Iran continuing, there is some positive momentum for 2015. In addition, the successful efforts to help put together still fragile, but key new “unity” governments in Afghanistan and Iraq is better than the likelihood of immediate tribal conflict between major ethnic communities in the face of terrorist threats.
One of the great new creative developments has been President Barack Obama’s initiative to reestablish relations with Cuba. This is a landmark action with potential to change the entire playing field regarding a nation that is in a time of major transition. Obama has with one stroke of the pen re-engaged America with Cuba. He recovered two prisoners and let long serving Cubans in jail free, see political prisoners released, broadened the areas of exchange of visits, goods, and dialogue, advancing towards early establishment of full diplomatic relations.
Yet, what one must also recognize is the continuing monumental challenge that faces all of mankind and our natural world: climate change. And 2014, while it did not bring about any immediate significant global move to fully address this existential threat, has nevertheless shown some progress and hints of what the major powers might be trying to move towards to mitigate, if not yet fully solve the coming cataclysm. This has largely been done by executive authority whether by domestic pollution regulation or by international diplomacy.
Also among the non-events, Iraq and Afghanistan did not yet disintegrate into warning ethnic and political conflict but at least for now choose a path of political compromise and efforts at inclusiveness, thanks to the intensive efforts of Secretary Kerry backed by President Obama along with efforts of other diplomats. China did not make a full war yet over the South China Sea islands, and Putin did not yet attack any NATO countries, although he did send irresponsible flights and ships near NATO counties and neutrals to show his great detest toward their sanctions. North Korea did not use its nuclear bombs and thus saved itself from total destruction. And American politics continued, without change, its corrosive politics, however adding one electoral change that may have extended the power of its crazies over the Senate.
What did not happen in 2014 is almost as important as the events that did. We did not attack Iran, nor do we have combat troops in Syria yet. We have not changed our goal to pull direct combat troops out of Afghanistan, but did act to support that frail nation and its armed forces in more constructive ways. Russia did not become “Nine Feet” tall but simply diminished itself with its own acts of silliness and cruelty. Additionally, Scotland did not become an isolated mini-state north of Britain, the American economy did not “tank” but grew and in the 3rd quarter some 5% annual growth. Lastly, Europe still did not really recover from it own self induced “austerity” policy which has proved a disaster for most of the EU counties that tried that disastrous road.
Sadly, the Middle East remains in deadlock; largely by the determined and also self-destructive efforts, not least new settlements, of the current Israeli government to destroy it seems the only possible rational creation of a two state solution. Nor did the PLA do much that was constructive. Gaza was a tragedy for all sides.
In the coming weeks we will be writing about what 2015 and beyond may bring, and look at how America might shape events towards positive outcomes and perhaps even more real security and peace.