Archive for the ‘World Politics’ Category

16 September 2021   Leave a comment

This post has nothing to do with world politics. My apologies, but I simply cannot resist.

Posted September 16, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

13 September 2021   Leave a comment

The Chinese media outlet, Global Times, which often reflects the official position of the Chinese Communist Party, has published an editorial entitled “PLA jets will eventually patrol over Taiwan: Global Times editorial“. The editorial comes as part of an escalating war of words and actions between the US and China over the status of Taiwan. Taiwan has historically been considered part of China but after the Chinese Communist Party took control of the mainland in 1949 (on October 1, 1949 which means that an important anniversary is coming up), the Nationalist government of China fled to the island and declared its independence as the Republic of China to differentiate itself from the communist controlled People’s Republic of China. From that time until 1972, the US recognized Taiwan as the legitimate government of the people of China and Taiwan held the UN Security Council seat reserved for China.

In 1972, the US and China signed what is known as the Shanghai Communique. The agreement was to put off the question of the status of Taiwan until at some point in the future. The Public Broadcasting System characterized the essential parts of the agreement:

“The U.S. declared its ‘interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves,’ and affirmed a total U.S. military withdrawal from the island as an ‘ultimate objective.’ The U.S. also agreed to ‘progressively reduce its forces and military installations on Taiwan as the tension in the area diminishes,’ thereby giving China a stake in the abatement of the Vietnam War.

“For its part, the PRC firmly rejected any ‘two Chinas’ formulation, declaring unequivocally that ‘the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government of China’ and ‘Taiwan is a province of China.’ The U.S., in deft phrasing, acknowledged ‘that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China,’ but neatly avoided the question of who should govern this ‘one China”.

In 1978, US President Carter, “severed US relations with the government on Taiwan and established formal diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.” That should have been the end of the matter.

But many in the US believed that Taiwan deserved support in order to show that the US condemned Communist rule in China and also because Taiwan became an important economic partner to the US and the world. Indeed, Taiwan is home to one of the most important semiconducting corporations in the world, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC). In addition, Taiwan is one of the most important purchaser of US weaponry, buying $5 billion of arms from the US in 2020.

China’s rhetoric on Taiwan has become increasingly more strident as China has become more powerful. For example, the precipitating event for the Global Times editorial was a seemingly innocuous decision by the US to rename Taiwan’s mission office to the US from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) to the Taiwan Representative Office. The Council on Foreign Relations published a short essay highlighting the significance of the change:

“If the Biden administration allows Taiwan to rebrand TECRO as the Taiwan Representative Office, it would undermine the logic of the unofficial nature of the U.S.-Taiwan relationship. Removing the reference to economic and cultural ties and adding the word ‘Taiwan’ would implicitly upgrade the status of the office to something more akin to an embassy. Such a decision would also strengthen the hand of those in Taipei who advocate additional moves to make the relationship more official, such as allowing Taiwan’s president to visit Washington, DC.

“Some will argue that renaming the office will not start a war with China, so the United States should go ahead with the move. But that is not a sufficient way to measure whether the United States should undertake a given policy. Instead, the United States should keep in mind whether a policy sends mixed messages to Taiwan regarding the U.S. position on Taiwan independence and emboldens those on Taiwan who advocate for independence. It also should consider whether a proposed policy is intellectually consistent with the U.S. One-China policy and sends the proper signals to its own bureaucracy. The fact that TECRO is such a unique name forces those in the U.S. government who do not routinely work on U.S.-Taiwan relations to ask why it is different and what is unique about U.S.-Taiwan ties. This has a useful disciplining effect on the government.”

Similarly, China condemned the recent decision of Lithuania to open diplomatic ties with Taiwan, leading to an impasse which threatens to embroil the entire European Union.

The willingness of China to break its agreement with Great Britain over the status of human rights in Hong Kong (the “two Systems Agreement” of 1997 which was supposed to be in force until 2047) suggests that China is feeling less constrained by other powers. Its continued military build-up in the South China Sea, which is flatly inconsistent with established international law on maritime matters, is another example of its growing confidence. Finally, after four years of former President Trump’s efforts to put “America First”, there is a clear fraying of US alliance ties and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is interpreted by some as a weakening of US will to defend allies. Clearly, Taiwan is worried about its ties with the US and it has dramatically increased its defense budget.

It is difficult for me to speculate about how this matter will develop. I think that Chinese President Xi would like to resolve the issue in China’s favor before 1 October 2022 and there is little question that Xi has consolidated his position as the Chinese leader to an incredible degree. But I have no idea how US President Biden regards the Chinese position on Taiwan. More than likely, the Afghanistan withdrawal makes it difficult for President Biden to back down if challenged by China.

The US position on Taiwan is tenuous since it has already conceded that Taiwan is part of China–it is politically very difficult for states to support territories that break away from a central government. The US Navy remains a formidable force, but it would be fighting in China’s backyard. The best course of action for the US would be to keep a low profile and to highlight the advantages to China of maintaining open markets for the advanced technology developed in Taiwan. The US should not think seriously about using military force to support an independent Taiwan.

Posted September 13, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

10 September 2021   Leave a comment

Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the 11 September attack on the US by al Qaeda. The newspapers are filled with references to the event and several TV channels are airing documentaries. There seem to be several themes common to all this attention: the grief and pain suffered by those who lost loves ones; the need to “never forget”; and the question of whether there was enough done to avert the attack. I have vivid memories of the event, watching the TV with my colleagues in Skinner Hall and realizing that an act of war had occurred. In subsequent days, there were many sessions with colleagues and students assessing the implications of the attack. My dear colleague, Jon Western, articulated the view held by many that the world had changed dramatically.

I am disheartened, however, that there seems to be a distinct lack of attention to the question of the intelligence of the US response to the attack. It was undoubtedly an act of war, but few asked the question of whether going to war was the correct response. The horrific and cold-blooded act stimulated rage, a desire for revenge, and unleashed cruel and unwarranted attacks on Arabs and Islam. None of those motives are consistent with a reasoned decision to go to war and to launch what came to be called the “Global War on Terror”. Clausewitz understood well the need to keep reason at the center of any decision to go to war: “We come now to the region dominated by the powers of intellect.  War is the realm of uncertainty . . . .  War is the realm of chance. . . .  Two qualities are indispensable:  first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this faint light wherever it may lead.  The first of these qualities is described by the French term, coup d’oeil; the second is determination.”

The US made a fatal mistake in treating the attack as a military attack, and not a political attack. al Qaeda had no army and few armaments. In September 2001 al Qaeda had purchased refuge in Afghanistan from the Taliban and, while it was well-organized, it was a small force of poorly armed adherents. The US response was to invade both Afghanistan and Iraq and overthrow their governments and replacing them with governments which poorly represented the interests of the people in those states. The US abandoned its commitment to defending human rights, resorting to torture in prisons such as Abu Ghraib and detaining prisoners in the US naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba with no charges and no access to any of the protections of the laws of war. The US also completely militarized its response to political terrorism, spending $21 trillion on measures designed to protect American security according to the National Priorities Project:

  • KEY FINDINGS
  • Over the 20 years since 9/11, the U.S. has spent $21 trillion on foreign and domestic militarization.
  • Of that total, $16 trillion went to the military — including at least $7.2 trillion for military contracts.
  • Another $3 trillion went to veterans’ programs, $949 billion went to Homeland Security, and $732 billion went to federal law enforcement.
  • For far less than it spent on militarization since 9/11, the U.S. could reinvest to meet critical challenges that have been neglected for the last 20 years:
  • $4.5 trillion could fully decarbonize the U.S. electric grid.
  • $2.3 trillion could create 5 million jobs at $15 per hour with benefits and cost-of-living adjustments for 10 years.
  • $1.7 trillion could erase student debt.
  • $449 billion could continue the extended Child Tax Credit for another 10 years.
  • $200 billion could guarantee free preschool for every 3-and-4-year old for 10 years, and raise teacher pay.
  • $25 billion could provide COVID vaccines for the populations of low-income countries.

In addition, the US military response to the attacks killed many civilians, dwarfing the 3,000 who were killed in the US on 11 September 2001:

“20 years after the terrorist attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center of Sept 11, 2001, at least 22,000 civilians have been killed in U.S. airstrikes during the war on terror, mainly in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The minimum estimate counts around 11,500 civilian airstrike deaths in Iraq, 5,700 in Syria and 4,800 in Afghanistan. Additional deaths occurred in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and Libya. The maximum estimate by UK NGO Airwars, which analyzed declared U.S. airstrikes since 2001, is more than twice as high at around 48,000.”

Now, twenty years later, the Taliban are back in power in Afghanistan, Iraq has a government strongly influenced by Iran, and terrorism continues to be the instrument of choice for many international groups but also for a disturbingly large number of white supremacists in the US. As we remember the grief of 11 September, we should also realize that we allowed that grief to lead us into a series of policies that addressed none of the causes of that sorrow. And more than likely deepened and aggravated those causes.

Posted September 10, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

1 September 2021   Leave a comment

US President Biden gave a speech yesterday announcing the end of the US role in the war in Afghanistan. It was probably an unnecessary speech since the news reports and videos since 14 August have thoroughly documented the exodus of Americans, Afghans, and allied citizens from the country. The politics of the end of an unsuccessful war are complicated and subject to the strong desire to forget the war as soon as possible. When Saigon fell in April 1975, then President Ford did not give a speech but rather issued a statement that was incredibly brief given the passions surrounding the war:

“During the past week, I had ordered the reduction of American personnel in
the United States mission in Saigon to levels that could be quickly evacuated
during an emergency, while enabling that mission to continue to fulfill its duties.

“During the day on Monday, Washington time. the airport at Saigon came under
persistent rocket as well as artillery fire and was effectively closed. The
military situation in the area deteriorated rapidly.”

“I, therefore. ordered the evacuation of all American personnel remaining in
South Viet Nam.

“The evacuation has been completed. I commend the personnel of the Armed
Forces who accomplished it, as well as Ambassador Graham Martin and the
staff of his mission who served so well under difficult conditions.

“This action closes a chapter in the American experience. I ask all Americans
to close ranks, to avoid recrimination about the past. to look ahead to the
many goals we share and to work together on the great tasks that remain to
be accomplished.”

President Biden’s speech today was an aggressive attempt to defend his decision to withdraw US troops by 31 August. The tone of the speech was admittedly defensive. His critics have made some serious charges about the decision to withdraw: that he abandoned Afghan allies and Afghan women and girls, placed US troops in jeopardy, blindsided NATO allies with the abruptness of the withdrawal, dishonored the sacrifice of the soldiers who were killed or wounded in the war, provided the Taliban with state of the art weaponry, and destroyed the credibility of US commitments in the future.

There was no reason for President Biden to be defensive. Losing a war is a difficult passage for any state, but the war in Afghanistan was lost many years ago and Biden made few decisions that were consequential in the conduct of the war. Given that his predecessor had already agreed to withdraw US troops in exchange for a promise by the Taliban not to attack US soldiers, there was very little Biden could do except break Trump’s agreement and renew combat with the Taliban. Dexter Filkins was interviewed by Terry Gross on National Public Radio in March 2021 and made these comments:

“FILKINS: The deal itself is simple, but it kind of sets off this cascade of other things which are not so simple. But the deal basically says the Taliban won’t kill any Americans, and we won’t attack the Taliban. And if all goes well and the Taliban agree not to support any kind of terrorism against the United States or not to allow terrorists in the country or any kind of bases, the United States will leave and go to zero and take out all of its forces by May 1…..

“And so the whole thing was kind of unconventional, but there’s an agreement. It was signed in February of last year, February 2020. And it says that the United States will pull out all of its forces by May 1. And what’s remarkable about it is that since February 2020, no American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan. So the Taliban have, in fact, held to their word.”

Trump enjoyed the cessation of hostilities but made no preparations to avoid any of the negative consequences experienced by Biden in the last two weeks. Thus, when critics of the Biden decision make the point that continuing the US presence in Afghanistan was relatively costless. they are ignoring the special circumstances of that armistice. It is true that Biden could have ripped up the Trump agreement, but that would have meant the return of hostilities and the commensurate risks to American troops.

President Biden made the correct decision to withdraw before the Taliban resumed hostilities. And he should be applauded for getting 5,000 Americans and 124,000 Afghans out under horrific conditions. Ending the war was unquestionably in the US national interest and, given the total collapse of the Afghan government, in the Afghan national interest. Afghanistan was never destined to become a liberal state under a military occupation and it was, and is, foolish to pretend otherwise.

Posted September 1, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

20 August 2021   Leave a comment

We have been flooded with news reports on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the apparent victory of the Taliban in taking control of the country. I have been struck by how many “experts” have emerged with a number of fanciful “what should have happened” scenarios in the face of a genuine humanitarian crisis. Over time we will learn more of the decision-making process of the Biden Administration and whether the President made a flawed decision to withdraw US forces precipitously.

I will wait for much more evidence before I determine how accurate these assessments are. But I am not at all reluctant to think that these assessments are less important than the more important question of why the US invaded and occupied Afghanistan in 2001. All the Sturm und Drang over Biden’s decision obscures the central fact that the US effort at “nation-building” was a colossal and expensive failure. What makes this fact so disturbing is that the US should have learned that lesson in the Vietnam War.

There once was a recognition that the failure should not be repeated. Colin Powell articulated the conditions necessary to support and sustain a military intervention in the future so that the US military would never find itself in a no-win situation. Powell outlined what came to be known as the “Powell Doctrine“. In Powell’s own words:

“In time, just as I came to reexamine my feelings about the war, the Army, as an institution, would do the same thing. We accepted that we had been sent to pursue a policy that had become bankrupt. Our political leaders had led us into a war for the one-size-fits-all rationale of anticommunism, which was only a partial fit in Vietnam, where the war had its own historical roots in nationalism, anticolonialism, and civil strife beyond the East-West conflict. Our senior officers knew the war was going badly. Yet they bowed to groupthink pressures and kept up pretenses, the phony measure of body counts, the comforting illusion of secure hamlets, the inflated progress reports. As a corporate entity, the military failed to talk straight to its political superiors or to itself. The top leadership never went to the secretary of defense or the president and said, “This war is unwinnable the way we are fighting it.” Many of my generation, the career captains, majors and lieutenant colonels seasoned in that war, vowed that when our turn came to call the shots, we would not quietly acquiesce in halfhearted warfare for half-baked reasons that the American people could not understand or support.”

The Powell Doctrine had the following questions to answer before the US would intervene in the future:

1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?

2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?

3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?

4. Have all other nonviolent policy means been fully exhausted?

5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?

6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?

7. Is the action supported by the American people?

8. Do we have genuine broad international support?

The problem with the Powell Doctrine was that these conditions were so strict that it would be highly unlikely that the US would use military force in the future and that outcome proved to be unacceptable to those who wished to keep the US military and to those who wished to profit from military spending.

After the US invaded Iraq in 2003 and overthrew its leader, Saddam Hussein, the US found itself in the position of determining a strategy to guide its operations in Iraq. Essentially, the invasion vitiated the precepts of the Powell Doctrine and the US found itself in the position of trying to rebuild Iraq. General David Petrae­us (whose Princeton Ph.D. dissertation was entitled “The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam”) rewrote the counterinsurgency manual for the US Army: “He took up the task of rewriting the military’s counterinsurgency manual. The new manual, which was published last month, presents a thoroughly researched and innovative rethinking of counterinsurgency in the post-Sept. 11 world — a reassessment of strategy based on the history of counterinsurgency stretching from ancient Rome to the French debacle in Algeria to America’s experience in Vietnam.” One can read the entire manual which is entitled “The Field Manual on Counterinsurgency Operations“.

Andrew J. Bacevich, writing in The Atlantic, highlights the significance of the shift from Powell to Petraeus:

“A leading voice in the Conservative camp is Colonel Gian Gentile, a Berkeley graduate with a doctorate in history from Stanford, who currently teaches at West Point. Gentile has two tours in Iraq under his belt. During the second, just before the Petrae­us era, he commanded a battalion in Baghdad.

Writing in the journal World Affairs, Gentile dismisses as ‘a self-serving fiction’ the notion that Abrams in 1968 put the United States on the road to victory in Vietnam; the war, he says, was unwinnable, given the ‘perseverance, cohesion, indigenous support, and sheer determination of the other side, coupled with the absence of any of those things on the American side.’ Furthermore, according to Gentile, the post-Vietnam officer corps did not turn its back on that war in a fit of pique; it correctly assessed that the mechanized formations of the Warsaw Pact deserved greater attention than pajama-clad guerrillas in Southeast Asia.

“Gentile also takes issue with the triumphal depiction of the Petrae­us era, attributing security improvements achieved during Petrae­us’s tenure less to new techniques than to a ‘cash-for-cooperation’ policy that put ‘nearly 100,000 Sunnis, many of them former insurgents, … on the U.S. government payroll.’ According to Gentile, in Iraq as in Vietnam, tactics alone cannot explain the overall course of events.

“All of this forms a backdrop to Gentile’s core concern: that an infatuation with stability operations will lead the Army to reinvent itself as ‘a constabulary,’ adept perhaps at nation-building but shorn of adequate capacity for conventional war-fighting.

The Petraeus Doctrine guided US operations in Afghanistan almost perfectly. And therein lies the humanitarian tragedy we are witnessing in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan was likely the nation less amenable to US influence, or, to be more precise, to any outside influence. In 2017 Akhilesh Pillalamarri wrote:

“Afghanistan is a notoriously difficult country to govern. Empire after empire, nation after nation have failed to pacify what is today the modern territory of Afghanistan, giving the region the nickname “Graveyard of Empires, ” even if sometimes those empires won some initial battles and made inroads into the region. If the United States and its allies decide to leave Afghanistan, they would only the latest in a long series of nations to do so. As the British learned in their 1839-1842 war in Afghanistan, it is often easier to do business with a local ruler with popular support than to support a leader backed by foreign powers; the costs of propping up such a leader eventually add up. The closest most historical empires have come to controlling Afghanistan was by adopting a light-handed approach, as the Mughals did. They managed to loosely control the area by paying off various tribes, or granting them autonomy. Attempts at anything resembling centralized control, even by native Afghan governments, have largely failed.”

Since 2001 the US has invested the lives of many soldiers and civilians and likely more than $1 trillion in an effort to build an Afghan army capable of resisting the Taliban. But those efforts were a spectacular failure as evidenced by the quick collapse of the Afghan national army. Some argue that the Afghan military folded because the Afghan government abruptly fled the country. There is some truth to that explanation but the soldiers in the Afghan army certainly knew that their government was not nearly as bad as the Taliban. Kori Schake explains the reason for the US failure:

“But our efforts to train foreign militaries also fail because of shortcomings particular to American policy choices. The U.S. tends to undertake large-scale train-and-equip programs when we don’t want to do the fighting ourselves; that has been the story in Iraq and Afghanistan. But sending that signal heartens adversaries and weakens the very forces we’re attempting to help. We convey the limits of our intentions.

“The same message is transmitted by assigning the training task solely to the military. The surges of military forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan were supposed to have civilian counterparts. Remember General Stanley McChrystal claiming that we were bringing “government in a box” to Afghanistan when he took over command of allied forces there? Neither surge, in Iraq or Afghanistan, delivered on its aims to strengthen civilian governance, which is essential for military training programs not to outpace and thereby undermine their civilian counterparts.”

We have known for some time that the training program was not going to be successful. In 2019 The Washington Post published what have come to be known as the “Afghanistan Papers” (using the Vietnam Pentagon Papers as an analog). Craig Whitlock describes the conclusions of those documents:

“A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.

“The documents were generated by a federal project examining the root failures of the longest armed conflict in U.S. history. They include more than 2,000 pages of previously unpublished notes of interviews with people who played a direct role in the war, from generals and diplomats to aid workers and Afghan officials.

“‘We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,’ Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: ‘What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.

“’If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction . . . 2,400 lives lost,’ Lute added, blaming the deaths of U.S. military personnel on bureaucratic breakdowns among Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department. ‘Who will say this was in vain?

“Since 2001, more than 775,000 U.S. troops have deployed to Afghanistan, many repeatedly. Of those, 2,300 died there and 20,589 were wounded in action, according to Defense Department figures.”

Ultimately, the emptiness of the US program led to the success of the Taliban. Douglas London, the CIA’s Counterterrorism Chief for South and Southwest Asia until 2019, outlines the US failure, not the Taliban’s victory:

“And in grading their own homework, the U.S. defense establishment only exacerbated the problem. While it’s little surprise the Department of Defense was unwilling to objectively evaluate the resolve and capacity of those they trained, equipped, and advised to resist a forthcoming Taliban offensive, their rose-colored depictions of achievement over 20 years flew in the face of reality, and was consistently challenged by the CIA’s more gloomy, albeit realistic projections.”

I would rather point to the US belief in American exceptionalism as the main cause of the failure. That belief, and the parochialism of the American perspective, was captured in the speech given by former President George W. Bush in his State of the Union Address in 2002. Bush celebrates the US ideology as universal, ignoring the long and distinguished history and culture of the Afghan people:

“America will lead by defending liberty and justice because they are right and true and unchanging for all people everywhere.

“No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation is exempt from them. We have no intention of imposing our culture. But America will always stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity:  the rule of law; limits on the power of the state; respect for women; private property; free speech; equal justice; and religious tolerance.”

This belief was maintained by subsequent Presidents Obama. Trump, and Biden. Until the US divests itself of the self-serving assumption that everyone in the world wants to be an American, it is likely that the mistake of Afghanistan, like the mistake of Vietnam, will be forgotten.

Posted August 20, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

15 August 2021   1 comment

The Taliban have taken control of Kabul and Afghan President Ghani has reportedly fled the country. Thus ends the US invasion of Afghanistan which started in October 2001 during the Presidency of George W. Bush in response to the terror attack on the US on 11 September 2001.

The collapse of the Afghan government was precipitous and, one suspects, unforeseen by the Biden Administration which had relied on military reports that the Afghan military was strong enough to delay the collapse for a period of time. President Biden was asked about the troop withdrawal and whether the Afghan government could resist the Taliban in his press conference on 8 July:

Q    Is a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan now inevitable?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, it is not.

Q    Why?

THE PRESIDENT:  Because you — the Afghan troops have 300,000 well-equipped — as well-equipped as any army in the world — and an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban.  It is not inevitable.

Q    Do you trust the Taliban, Mr. President?  Do you trust the Taliban, sir?

THE PRESIDENT:  You — is that a serious question?

Q    It is absolutely a serious question.  Do you trust the Taliban? 

THE PRESIDENT:  No, I do not.

Q    Do you trust handing over the country to the Taliban?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, I do not trust the Taliban. 

Q    So why are you handing the country over?

Q    Mr. President, is the U.S. responsible for the deaths of Afghans after you leave the country?

Q    Mr. President, will you amplify that question, please?  Will you amplify your answer, please — why you don’t trust the Taliban?

THE PRESIDENT:  It’s a — it’s a silly question.  Do I trust the Taliban?  No.  But I trust the capacity of the Afghan military, who is better trained, better equipped, and more re- — more competent in terms of conducting war. 

But the Afghan army has completely dissolved without putting up any fight at all given the small number of casualties so far.

To be fair to President Biden, he was simply parroting what his advisers had told him, and he was likely assured that the eventual takeover by the Taliban could be delayed for what Henry Kissinger had hoped for when he signed the peace agreement with North Vietnam in 1973: a “decent interval” between the American withdrawal and the collapse of the South Vietnamese government. Moreover, Biden was constrained by the agreement between the US and the Taliban brokered by the Trump Administration that US troops would leave Afghanistan by 1 May 2021. Dexter Filkins, writing for the New Yorker, describes the attitude of the Trump Administration toward Afghanistan:

“But, as Americans have lost patience with the war, the U.S. has reduced its presence in Afghanistan, from about a hundred thousand troops to some twenty-five hundred. Seven months before Koofi went to Doha, officials in the Trump Administration concluded their own talks with the Taliban, in which they agreed to withdraw the remaining forces by May 1, 2021. The prevailing ethos, a senior American official told me, was “Just get out…..”

“Trump was clearly desperate to make a deal that would allow him to say that he had ended the war. When the Taliban refused to include the Afghan government in the talks, the U.S. did not insist. The senior American official told me, ‘The Trump people were saying, ‘Fuck this—the Afghans are never going to make peace anyway. Besides, who cares whether they agree or not?’’ As the talks progressed, Trump repeatedly announced troop withdrawals, depriving his negotiators of leverage. ‘He was steadily undermining us,’ a second senior American official told me. ‘The trouble with the Taliban was, they were getting it for free.’ In the end, the two sides agreed not to attack each other, and the Americans agreed to withdraw.

“The Taliban had to meet a list of conditions, including preventing terrorists from operating out of Afghanistan and refraining from major attacks on the country’s government and military. But the prospect of insuring a total pullout was appealing enough that the Taliban began rooting for Trump to win reëlection. In one of the odder moments of the U.S. campaign season, they issued an endorsement of his candidacy. ‘When we heard about Trump being covid-19-positive, we got worried,’ a senior Taliban leader told CBS News. (The group subsequently claimed that it had been misquoted.)”

The Taliban have apparently kept their end of the deal–they seem to be willing to allow the US to evacuate American citizens from the country. Whether they will allow Afghans who worked with the Americans to leave the country remains to be seen. More than likely, the Taliban regard these individuals as traitors and might wish to make an example of them in order to coerce compliance as they seize control. That outcome would amplify the tragedy of the war but it is impossible for me to see how it can be avoided. It is difficult to predict the future for Afghanistan, but the Taliban have already announced the creation of the an Islamic Emirate which suggests that its earlier pattern of a strict, conservative Islamic regime is likely. Richard Haas provides his scenario of the future:

“Biden was working from a script inherited from the administration of Donald Trump, which in February 2020 signed an accord with the Taliban (cutting out the government of Afghanistan in the process) that set a May 2021 deadline for the withdrawal of US combat troops. The agreement did not oblige the Taliban to disarm or commit to a cease-fire, but only to agree not to host terrorist groups on Afghan territory. It was not a peace agreement but a pact that provided a fig leaf, and a thin one at that, for American withdrawal.

“The Biden administration has honored this deeply flawed agreement in every way but one: the deadline for full US military withdrawal was extended by just over three months. Biden rejected any policy that would have tied US troop withdrawal to conditions on the ground or additional Taliban actions. Instead, fearing a scenario in which security conditions deteriorated and created pressure to take the politically unpopular step of redeploying troops, Biden simply removed all US forces.

“As was widely predicted, momentum dramatically shifted to the Taliban and away from the dispirited government after the announced (and now actual) US military departure. With the Taliban taking control of all of Afghanistan, widespread reprisals, harsh repression of women and girls, and massive refugee flows are a near certainty. Preventing terrorist groups from returning to the country will prove far more difficult without an in-country presence.”

The chorus of policy wonks has already decided that Biden should bear the burden of being the President who “lost Afghanistan”. Biden certainly shares some blame, but the more accurate conclusion should be that the US invasion was doomed to fail when the objective shifted from destroying al Qaeda in Afghanistan to trying to build a liberal, Western-style government as an alternative to the Taliban. Such an objective was not only illegitimate, it was also a fool’s errand, a lesson that should have been learned in Vietnam. The American people decided not to question the US role in Afghanistan since relatively few American soldiers died in the conflict and no one had to pay higher taxes to pay for it.

The Taliban will have a difficult time governing Afghanistan. It will have two neighbors, Iran and Pakistan, who have genuine fears about Taliban rule and India under the rule of the BJP will have strong reservations about an Islamic state. The Taliban will have some support from China and Russia, but they, too, have reasons to fear Taliban rule, particularly the Chinese who will watch carefully if the Taliban choose to support the Uighurs in their quest for greater autonomy from Beijing. Most European countries will find it difficult to work with the Taliban if human rights, particularly the rights of women, are ignored.

The only good possible outcome of this tragedy will be an American assessment of its role in world politics. If the Americans divest themselves of the belief that only liberal states are legitimate and that military power can compensate for political weakness. Those lessons were not learned in the Vietnam War; I can only hope that the American people are educable.

Posted August 15, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

9 August 2021   Leave a comment

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued its Sixth Assessment Report on the state of the planet’s climate. The previous reports have been very guarded in assessing the role of human action on the global climate, but this year the IPCC is very direct: “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.”

One should hope that this assessment should put to rest any doubts articulated by climate deniers, but, given the financial interests of the fossil fuel industry, that outcome is unlikely.

The BBC lists the key conclusions of the report:

  • Global surface temperature was 1.09C higher in the decade between 2011-2020 than between 1850-1900.
  • The past five years have been the hottest on record since 1850
  • The recent rate of sea level rise has nearly tripled compared with 1901-1971
  • Human influence is “very likely” (90%) the main driver of the global retreat of glaciers since the 1990s and the decrease in Arctic sea-ice
  • It is “virtually certain” that hot extremes including heatwaves have become more frequent and more intense since the 1950s, while cold events have become less frequent and less severe

The report does not consider the worst outcomes of climate change as inevitable. The New York Times summarizes the range of alternative futures:

“The report laid out five climate futures, in which humans take varying steps to reduce the emissions that cause warming. Under all of them, the world will reach 1.5 degrees — the more ambitious of the targets set by the Paris climate change agreement in 2015 — by 2040 or sooner.

“Under most of the scenarios discussed in the report, warming will continue well beyond 2040, through the remainder of the century. In the worst cases, where the world does little to reduce emissions, temperatures by 2100 could be 3 to 6 degrees Celsius (5.5 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. That would have catastrophic consequences.

“But the report shows that aggressive, rapid and widespread emissions cuts, beginning now, could limit the warming beyond 2050. In the most optimistic scenario, reaching “net zero” emissions could even bring warming back slightly under 1.5 degrees Celsius in the second half of the century.

“Such a scenario would be a mammoth and expensive undertaking for the world. It would also require a level of political will that most governments have so far been unable to muster.”

The difficulties in achieving effective action are profound:

“UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called the report a ‘code red’ for humanity, adding that it ‘must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy the planet.’

“The US government’s Climate Envoy, John Kerry, said the IPCC report shows that ‘we cannot afford further delay,’ adding that ‘climate change is transforming our planet in unprecedented ways, with far-reaching effects that we are already seeing – making heatwaves, extreme rainfall, fire weather, and droughts more frequent and severe.'”

Posted August 9, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

31 July 2021   Leave a comment

Wildfires are burning in large parts of the Northern Hemisphere. Many are aware of the wildfires in the western parts of the US including Oregon, Idaho, and California. National Public Radio conducted an interview between Scott Simon and Lauren Sommer which details the extent of the damage so far in the US:

“SIMON: We talk about fires in the West now almost routinely. Last year was record-breaking. Is this looking to be the same kind of season?

“SOMMER: Yeah. It’s been a very busy fire season already because many of the fires have been so fast-moving. You know, in southern Oregon, the biggest wildfire in the country, the Bootleg Fire, has burned more than 400,000 acres. In California, the Dixie Fire is burning not far from where the Camp Fire burned in 2018, which destroyed thousands of homes. So residents are on alert yet again.

“Compared to last year at this time, wildfires have burned three times more acreage already in the state. And the worst of fire season hasn’t hit yet, which is typically August, September, October.”

The western fires are so intense that the smoke from them are affecting the air quality on the US East Coast.

But the US is not the only country to be so seriously affected. There are large wildfires burning in Siberia, Canada, Sardinia, Sicily, Lebanon, Greece. and Turkey.

Most analysts agree that global warming is largely responsible for the intensity of these fires. CNN reports:

“‘The fire season is getting longer, the fires are getting larger, they’re burning more intensely than ever before,’ said Thomas Smith, an assistant professor in Environmental Geography at the London School of Economics.

“Many factors, like poor land management, play a role in wildfires, but climate change is making them more frequent and intense. Most of Europe, the Western US, southwest Canada and some regions of South America experienced drier-than-average conditions in June, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service, making tinderboxes of forests.

“The wildfires in Yakutia have consumed more than 6.5 million acres since the beginning of the year,​ according to figures published by the country’s Aerial Forest Protection Service. That’s nearly 5 million football fields.”

Posted July 31, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

21 July 2021   Leave a comment

When I was teaching World Politics, I always had a section of the course on global environmental issues. In that section, I referenced the work of Dennis and Donella Meadows who were among the first to attempt to model the global environment. Their work, entitled The Limits to Growth, was incredibly controversial for two reasons. First, they used computer simulations which relied upon techniques and processes with which most people were unfamiliar, and many challenged the data and assumptions that underpinned the analysis. Second, the books suggested that the world would suffer a catastrophic crisis in the mid-21st century because economic activity, and the political; and social institutions that supported that activity, were unsustainable. and many found that conclusion far too pessimistic given how humans have managed through similar crises in the past.

The discussions on the topic were always intense and difficult, particularly as the global debate on climate change became more visible to a larger audience. But the evidence continues to mount that the predictions of the Limits to Growth were not at all far-fetched. The recent floods in Europe, the wildfires in the US West and Northwest, the floods in central China (note that the Global Times article does not mention climate change), and the extraordinary heat waves in various parts of the world all suggest that the Limits to Growth was on target.

Climate change is happening now, but it is inevitable that it will get worse. The New York Times ran an article that forecasts what the climate will likely be in 2090.

“What does the future hold?

“It’s a simple and deadly formula: The greater our emissions of heat-trapping gases, the higher the temperature rise and the greater the health risks. Claudia Tebaldi, an earth scientist and climate modeler at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, told The Times this month that as a general rule, for every one-degree increase in global average temperature, extreme temperatures will rise by up to twice as much.

“Last year was the warmest on record, effectively tying with 2016, with the past seven years the hottest years ever recorded. And that has created conditions that have made extreme summer heat more frequent. Among other things, it is weakening the jet stream and causing weather patterns, like the recent heat dome that sat over the Pacific Northwest, to remain stuck in place for days.

“About 12,000 Americans die from heat-related deaths each year. Under a climate scenario in which heat-trapping gas emissions continue to rise, that number would increase by 97,000 deaths in the United States by the year 2100, according to a recent study. If only modest progress is made in constraining emissions, those deaths are projected to rise by 36,000. With aggressive emissions reductions, deaths would go up by 14,000.”

The Times has some really shocking graphics about what is possible if efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions do not become stronger and more robust.

Posted July 21, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

14 July 2021   1 comment

Happy Bastille Day!!!

Posted July 14, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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