Tag Archives: vietnam

Commentary: Addendum-Afghanistan Why Are We Still There?

 

How the scene can change when different eyes exam the landscape. When politicians view a military operation, not only are expectations altered but wins and losses on the battlefield are measured by different criteria—often not at the cost of lives. Military personal access the cost of battle not thru the periscope of headlines but in the number of causalities, Most often “Politicians” never participate in the wars they have voted for nor the sending of their kin into battle.

The Afghanistan war is the longest war we have ever participated in, and as I have written just one month ago (Afghanistan—The Exit Door, July 6th 2017), at a tremendous cost to human lives and a trillion dollars of our taxes. We have succeeded at the goals initially set out for our military commanders, and yet we move forward—more troops more material. Why today: What United States’ national security is at risk in Afghanistan? Why today: What do we risk at home if we withdraw from this particular battlefield?

If the answer is withdrawing our troops from Afghanistan and not committing an additional 4000 military personal, Iran will fill the political and military vacuum we have created. If the answer is upon withdrawing our troops we will have encouraged, empowered and enabled the terrorist to regroup, strengthen and take their acts of horror abroad to our shore and those of our allies. If those are our reasons, then first we should engage more directly and forcefully with Iran’s duplicitous leaders. Second, if we are fearful of those who are hostile to us and are planning or engaged in undermining siting governments then we should be engaged in many more venues than Afghanistan.

Since July 6 of this year, when I proposed that it was time for us to withdraw from that field of battle, the following has and is transpiring—all “not good”.

What is Afghanistan—it is neither a secure nor stable nation but one run with an openly corrupt political system, and as noted by the Washington Post, the Taliban’s “return from the dead.” Afghanistan is not a pretty country, extremely poor, landlocked, highly dependent on farming and livestock, and the country flows in and out of severe droughts. Their population has now lived thru 10 years of Soviet military occupation and presently, a 16 year war involving the US and NATO. The question is why we are there and the answer is clear and it is not the threat of its exportation of terrorism. Second, if it is because of the threat of Iran’s intentions to fill the vacuum created by our departure and its support for the Taliban siege, then we should plan to be there for decades of boots on the ground and that is untenable.

Besides oil and gas, Afghanistan is estimated to have significant coal reserves (probable reserves of 400 million tons), and more important, and as President Trump keeps referring to, there are important non-identified mineral deposits “he would like to get his hands on”. Afghanistan’s significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographical position as a potential and important transfer route for oil and natural gas exports from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea. This potential includes proposed multi-billion-dollar oil and gas export pipelines through Afghanistan; clearly, these plans have now been thrown into serious question with the present level of violence. Trump’s predecessors also struggled with the mission of attempting to stabilizing that country and bringing U.S. troops home. Bringing the troops home were the operative words.

Bringing the troops home is NOT the present administrations’ goal. Nor do we have a political goal that has been articulated. To the contrary, at this moment, more troops are poised to be poured into that country and this administration, and the president has clearly indicated the desire to declare a “victory” to the Trump brand, and political base support. A political message is not in our national security interests. But there is more. At what cost?

A U.S. plan to improve Afghan intelligence operations was found to be a $457m failure, as was the Afghan’s ability to maintain its own security and stability. Although the President gave the Pentagon complete authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan (after his defense secretary, James Mattis, suggested the war was being lost) his complaints of a failure of military success are belied by his own failure to set a strategic and political ground plan. After the July, meeting there has been no declared policy or military strategy.

Then a NATO convoy was attacked in Kandahar. The attack caused serious casualties. It came as Afghan authorities in western Herat province tightened security, ahead of a mass funeral for the victims there of an attack the previous evening that killed 29. A suicide attacker opened fire inside a mosque packed with worshippers at evening prayers, before detonating his explosives. And American troops were killed either by Afghan soldiers or Taliban fighters.

In July, at a meeting in the White House, the President’s frustration was expressed–he voiced his negative attitude and hostility toward “experts” and his own military advisors. You might remember during one point in his campaign for the White House, he expressed his dismay with military commanders and our intelligence community: “I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me!” The July White House meeting was a two hour top level meeting in the situation room in which these thoughts and others were expressed:

  • The President continued his complaint that our NATO allies have “not been helpful”.
  • How could the United States “get a piece” of Afghan’s mineral wealth.
  • He repeatedly insisted that our top commander in the region be fired.
  • The President also fumed that a decade ago China had purchased mineral rights in Afghanistan, which this country had supported, and has since been vigorously mining copper outside of Kabul. Why weren’t we in there “grabbing” the natural mineral resources —as China is earning trillions of dollars in rare minerals, while we fight their wars against the Taliban?
  • This is the mindset of the President’s remarks shortly after being inaugurated, when he complained that the U.S. “didn’t grab” Iraq’ oil when our military forces left that country in 2011.

The July the meeting over, the President, as our commander-in-chief, left without making any decision regarding our nation’s political or military strategy. At this moment the United States has no policy plan for our place in Afghanistan. It left those that had participated in the meeting “unnerved”.

The fact is that you cannot win every confrontation that faces our nation, even if you are the United States. That is reality. We were forced out of Vietnam and our national security has not been affected. Then there is the reality that some nation states are not at this moment capable of entering into the 21 century, and the United States cannot force their democratic development in an arbitrary timetable. There is the reality that “grabbing” the natural resources of counties incapable of maintaining their own security is a form of colonialism—not national security.

There are realities and there are hopes. The reality is that Afghanistan is not crucial to our national security; the reality is that Iran is crucial to our national security; the reality is that there is an unacceptable conflict between what is necessary for the United States national security and a public relations tweet of “victory” or the “grabbing” of the natural resources of others.

Being in Afghanistan is not in the United States security interest. Confronting Iran is.

Richard Allan

The Editor

 

Commentary— Wake Up– China is Awake!

At a family dinner this week, the conversation turned first from domestic politics to fear and then to the Mid-East. I suddenly felt very much in the minority. We were becoming myopic in our view of the world’s present and potential disasters. As much as I tried to steer the conversation from Mid-East to the West and Asia, I was rebuffed on all sides. We have such an emotional and intellectual investment in the Mid-East that we are losing sight of a very dangerous geographic confrontation that is quietly playing itself out on the far side of the Pacific Ocean and what may morph into a dangerous confrontation in that part of the world.

The most recent news that bombards us from ISIS is their latest video released online touting a shari’a school that attempts to instill in its very young pupils the desire of martyrdom—“the cubs of the Caliphate” . The voice-over video announces that it is these children who will be the vanguard of a new army who will conquer Rome, Jerusalem, and Baghdad among other major cities.

It is not easy, after so many years of focus, to move away from those types of threats and focus on a different part of the world, but we must or suffer the consequences. We have done just that in the past. Let us not repeat that error again.

If you look at your map and find the southern tip of Japan, the Philippine Islands is to the south-east, then move in a circular clock-wise direction to Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia and finally China you will notice these nations form a large oblong circle, some miles 1,400,000 square miles creating the South China Sea (SCS). This Sea, and its mostly uninhabited islands, have been subject to competing claims of sovereignty for decades by several countries for a number of strategic reasons. Among them: one-third of the worlds shipping ply thru its water, and there are huge oil and gas reserves in its sea beds.

If you google “China” the first thing that will pop-up is that there is a new home buying boom and all the banks in China are in hot pursuit of those new customers. What does not receive the attention it deserves is that China is once again creating new islands out of old coral reefs. That is not a typo– these man-made large islands, sitting upon coral reef, are not being advertised as the new tropical island tourist attraction for those tired of the Caribbean. China is building a major, powerful war machine far from its mainland to control that part of the world.

As we passively watched Europe in 1938, 39 and 40, we are once again almost passively watching the growth of a powerful armed threat against the sovereignty of a number of nations in the South Pacific that will have a direct impact on the economics of world trade and security. If nothing else, remember that one third of the world’s commerce flows thru this area.

Thanks to a series of excellent articles including one by Steve Mollman, we gain additional insight into the present military importance of this area, which we are ignoring at our peril. In the past, I wrote about the Spratly Islands in the SCS, where China, through massive dredging of more than 2,000 acres at three main reefs (reefs!), created a substantial military base of operation. This military complex has sea port facilities, military buildings, and multiple high density airstrips. China then unilaterally announced that it had indisputable sovereignty over the reef/islands and its nearby waters—12 nautical miles. All this announced in clear violation of settled international maritime law. And then the leaders in Beijing angrily called the world’s arbitration court process a “farce” for rejecting its claim.

To the north west of the Spratly Islands and about 200 miles from the coast of Vietnam lies the Paracel Islands. Here too, the Chinese have claimed ownership of disputed territory and then, thru the massive reclamation by dredging, have greatly expanding their acreage. On several of these islands, intelligence photos reveal the building of military garrisons, radar domes, and on one of the islands in the group, a concrete manufacturing plant with an enlarged sea port with reinforced seawalls. What appears to be developing along with new island acquisition, which I will note in the next paragraph, is that an anti-submarine(ASW) helicopter base of operation is being developed that could morph into an enormous ability for massive surveillance without the necessity of supply and surveillance support from main land China.

How that vast area is quickly moving under controlled by China is evidenced by their present illegal adventures to annex the Scarborough Shoal, a large coral atoll with a reef-rimmed lagoon. It encompasses 58 square miles and lies less than 150 miles from the Philippine coast.   If you take that next look at the map of the South Asia Sea you will notice that these three sets of islands (the Spratly Island and Scarborough Shoal and the Paracel Islands) form a formidable strategic triangle that covers just under a million and half square miles and provides China with a superior air dense identification zone. In effect, China controls the air space over this international and vital portion of the world—where more than five trillion dollars’ worth of trade pies its waters each year and is the main passage for Mid-East oil to Japan and South Korea.

China has set a rapid and high urgency agenda to build a sophisticated naval deployment with supporting structures in the South Asia Sea. They are accomplishing this with sophisticated radar equipment, ASW anti-submarine strength facilities, deep water ports, military grade runways, along with building additional aircraft carriers to increase its naval strength with a support fleet all superimposed upon illegal claims of maritime sovereignty. Within the last week, elements of the Chinese and Russian navies concluded an eight day joint war games exercise in the SCS. And today, amid increased tensions over the disputed territories, Beijing announced it is preparing to launch stealthy UAVs to protect and map the contested islands.

It is clear from all of China’s activities, aside from the naval war games with Russia, that there can be no question regarding its strong commitment to its ever increasing territorial claims and the accelerated building of its armed/naval strength and presence. This has caused both military and diplomatic confrontations with the United States in what a former Japanese admiral has called a “game changer.” We must call China’s behavior what it is –unadorned overt military aggression. We must draw a real line in the sand that will be enforced — not by name calling but by concrete military intervention and economic sanctions. Our message must be conveyed in clear and unambiguous terms to China and the international community.

Silence and inaction is an act of capitulation to an international bully and can only lead to damaging both our economic and direct security interests. With China, from a reef to an island in less than a year, is reality. What next?

Richard Allan

The Editor

 

 

 

Commentary: Why Study Madeiran

It is a rainy Saturday afternoon and all my outside chores where put on hold. Time to clean my desk and my computer of saved “stuff”. The mere thought of the process has overwhelmed me.

The mid-East has made the word “nightmare” too mild an adjective. And the headlines take me from the news that there has been the first human head transplant to the announcement that we (our Government) has spent 1 trillion dollars (that’s a lot of zeros) on our homeland security. And as I note to myself that I do not feel any safer by any standard, a family questions pops up. Grandson number 2 is off to college and the question passed around is– should he continue his study of Madeiran as part of his core studies in his first year in college. Most of those polled say: No. Why continue with such a difficult Chinese language. His brother and I say: Yes. I am not sure our reasons are the same.

The Mid-East is a burning inferno with more crossed signals that one could have anticipated. The shifting of allies and the increased intensity of the violence produced by our enemies has created confusion and discouragement simultaneously. Why are we continuing to bother to attempt to change the hearts and minds of people and institutions that are mired in a time-warp in history that cannot be changed by either externally instigated or home inspired civil wars. We cannot impose democracy or regime changes or fight battles with some of those who are motivated by barbaric instinct.

There is yet another layer of conflict, the fight, not merely for control of regional ideologies, but the struggle between the United States and Russia to build powerful buffers for each of its own international self-protection.

With this our sole focus of attention, we miss a greater threat that is blithely and elegantly sailing under the radar and with the tide running in its favor.

Grandson number# 2, I say, continue your studies in Mandarin Chinese because there lies the bomb that is greater than the Mid-East flames. The Mid-East conflict will last another fifty years until all the regional parties will become exhausted and no longer have the ability to pay for the cost of inflicting or being the recipient of violence.

China on the other hand has crumbled its “great wall” of international isolation and seeks to confront the rest of world for what it alone considers its rightful share of this planet. It is not looking for a “hand-out” from the big powers. It ignores them. It has decided unilaterally that it is their prerogative to seize or create (an island out of coral reef) what it believes it is their rightful share of not merely world power and dominance but substantial space on this planet, and has put its military might and its own logic behind that grab.

It all started with the world looking with, and I think I say this accurately, something akin to “what are they trying to do? “ And, parenthetically, there is also a smirk on our faces. If you do not remember the facts, let me refresh your recollection: First if you look at a map of the Philippine islands (there are some 700 that make up the chain) and draw your eye to the West into the lower region of the South China Sea, you will find a slew of small islands and reefs. A reef is a chain of rocks or coral or a ridge of sand at or near the surface of water. In 2014, a rivalry intensified in that area that is best described as a sea of messy territorial claims, with China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam disputing the sovereignty of island chains and reefs in the nearby waters.

Then, a little more than 18 months ago, started China’s startling action in a little more than 18 months ago: it has reclaimed –through massive dredging of more than 2,000 acres at three main reefs (reefs!) in the Spratly Island. It unilaterally announced that it had indisputable sovereignty over the reef/islands and its nearby waters—12 nautical miles. With all this in violation of international maritime law, China built a substantial military base with a major runway. And to move fast forward their leaders in Beijing have angrily called the world’s arbitration court process a “farce” for rejecting the legality of its claim to the South China Sea. On top of this, China has three aircraft carriers in either construction or refurbishing placing them at the forefront of its maritime might.

Last, in this very brief summary of China’s surge, is a long article in 20 August WSJ “ China’s Naval Footprint Grows”. I was startled by a map of China’s strategic military port networks from Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya in Africa, Egypt, Turkey and Greece and moving east to Pakistan and Myanmar (Burma). These ports of call are being built or financed or operated by the Chinese navy for the new Chinese navy, not for tourism. This list does not include those ports visited most frequently by the Chinese navy for rest or refiling, nor those being built in the South China Sea as I described above and are being enhanced.

China has ignored an international court; China has ratcheted its aggressive maritime move to ports far beyond it natural maritime boarders, and most important, China shows no hint of slowing down either its rhetoric or is aggressive military expansion. We fly within what they consider their territorial sovereign boarder in the South China Sea, we send ships pushing the 12 nautical mile claim of control and they warn us and we ignore them. That dance cannot continue.

I dare not think of an Obama line in the sand, especially as he is departing the oval office in 5 months. I dare not think what China may do to exacerbate an already contentious presidential United States election. I dare not think how far China is willing to push the expansion envelope with our main focus not west but east.

I do think my number 2 grandson should continue with his studies in Madeiran for the most obvious of all reasons. China is not our ally, not our partner, not our friend.

Richard Allan,

The Editor