Tag Archives: Armed Forces

After the Bombs

Rebels inspect a pro-Qaddafi military truck after its bombing. (Photo credit: New York Times)

Five weeks after the Arab protests spread to Libya, the United States has found itself tangled in yet another Middle Eastern conflict. The question on everyone’s mind is, will this be a Gulf War or Iraq 2.0? In other words, where will we be after the bombs stop falling?

I think it’s safe to say Obama’s situation now is quite different from George Bush’s back in 2003. On a military level, Obama has been keeping his distance by not involving ground forces, choosing to instead use missiles and airstrikes. Obama’s military plan at this point seems to be to hammer Qaddafi’s forces as hard as possible without touching down on Libyan soil.

The UN’s decision to hold back the tide of Qaddafi’s advances on the rebels was intended to do two things. First, it was meant to stop further humanitarian crisis in the form of military massacres by Qaddafi’s forces. Second, the declaration was a way of legitimizing the rebellion’s government and the movement that put it in place.

And yet, as with every military intervention, this answer to the rebels’ prayers opens an entire book of new questions, particularly for the United States and Barack Obama. The president has faced harsh criticism from the left and the right for what many feel was an impulsive dive into yet another Middle Eastern crap chute. Some have even gone so far as to say that Obama’s presidency is “Bush’s third term.”

Now, although I’m a fan of the man, President Obama has made some hefty mistakes in handling the crisis in Libya. His first foible, which has compounded into the criticism he now faces, was his hesitancy in taking the Libyan humanitarian crisis as seriously as he should have. Now, I realize that I don’t stand a chance of pretending to understand all of the complex minutia and details that factor into a decision like the one he made, and how difficult it must have been, considering all the pressures on the administration about this issue. But it seems to me that the president should’ve given more initial credence to the idea of military intervention in Libya. If the idea had been on the American table earlier, there would have been more time to have serious internal discussions about it (which would hopefully resolve Congress’s beef) before launching in after a chat with Nicolas Sarkozy.

Following from this mistake was the lack of clarity on the future of the situation in Libya. While I don’t think that this is likely to become another Iraq War, US military involvement always brings up questions. The most prominent one, as I suggested in the title of this post, is what’s next? Many, including prominent members of Congress and thinkers on both sides of the aisle, have pointed out that Obama doesn’t seem to have much of an endgame in Libya. Bombs will fall for a few more days (hopefully that’s all), and Qaddafi’s forces have been and will continue to be whittled down.

But what happens after that? Now that the international community has intervened (which, even after all my hemming and hawing, I think was a good thing), how involved should it be? US administration officials have made it pretty clear that they expect the burden of this coalition to fall of the shoulders of everyone, if not mainly Britain and France. And hopefully, other nations, particularly the Arab League, will prevent this attack on Qaddafi from taking on the aspect of another assault on a Muslim country. But there’s a bigger problem than America’s Arab street cred.

The coalition’s goal in striking against Qaddafi has been to protect the civilians and rebels of Libya from the senseless violence Qaddafi would love to inflict on them. But how far can a no-fly zone and bombs take the rebellion? There’s a whole host of possible situations that could rise after the dust settles in Libya. The country might fracture into two under the pressures of enemy governments in east and west. If not removed, a vengeful Qaddafi might revert to his past terrorism, lashing out against Europe, America, and his own people. The opposition is still nascent (at best), and it remains a relatively untested force.

There are many things still up in the air where Libya is concerned, and I’ll continue to write about the situation as it develops. But for now, we can only hope that things come to the swift conclusion that the coalition is hoping for. And so, in the spirit of this post, I’ll end with the biggest question of all: What’s next for Libya?

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Crossing Qaddafi

The UN Security Council has decided to take action against Qaddafi. France has shown particular initiative.

The United Nations passed a vote on Thursday to begin enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya, as well as deciding to permit “all necessary actions” (code for military enforcement) to defend the civilian population of Libya from Moammar Qaddafi.

This is incredible news, and though it comes quite late in the day, the Libyan opposition movement has been jubilant about the UN’s much more official and pragmatic declaration of support. In fact, it would seem that French jets have already fired on at least one occasion against Qaddafi, and the US has launched missiles targeting his anti-air defenses. The current number of missiles launched at this post’s time of publication was 110.

Col. Qaddafi has been pushing the rebels back, city by city, towards the east, and has forced them as far as Benghazi, the current seat of rebel power. The declaration against Qaddafi was widely welcomed, and indeed celebrated by rebels, who see it as a somewhat late move but what could be a turning point for them against the dictator who runs the country.

In response to the UN’s decision, Qaddafi “declared a ceasefire.” I put this in quotes for two reasons. First, this ceasefire seems to have yet to materialize. Witnesses have been reporting violence in Benghazi and elsewhere even after the so-called peace. Second, how is it at all possible to trust Qaddafi at this point? He’s made such ridiculous claims as “I have all the Libyan people with me and I’m prepared to die. And they are prepared to die for me. Men, women and even children,” in a letter to President Obama. Qaddafi is hardly known for his powers of common sense and rationality, and it shows plainly in his assertions that all of Libya stands beside him. Would a man so willing to lie outright about the loyalty of his people be honest about a ceasefire? No, it seems obvious that Qaddafi’s words have utterly lost their meaning. A man can’t go from spluttering violent threats against his own civilians to saying that there is peace.

That said, I think Qaddafi still has a chance to step down or step aside. Now that the UN’s condemnation of his actions has taken a form stronger than words, Col. Qaddafi has a much shorter timer on his autocratic slaughter of his own people. With coalition forces beginning to hit his military, this dictator may begin to put his money where his mouth is (hopefully).

This seems to be an answer to prayer for the rebellion, who have been almost pleading for foreign intervention to stop the bloodshed. Their desires have largely fallen on deaf ears, particularly in America, so this development comes as a very welcome change for the opposition. And while there are still drawbacks to military involvement in yet another Arab conflict, it’s a good thing overall that serious steps are being taken to put an end to Qaddafi’s massacre of his own people. It’s time that the international community, especially the US, puts some real meaning behind the assertion that democracy is a basic right for all people.

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Dead Ends in Afghanistan

American soldiers exit a transport chopper in Ghazni, Afghanistan.

Most if not all of my information for this post was taken from this article in the New York Times –  just to let you know! I’d encourage you to read it as it provides a lot more detail than I do!

As the war in Afghanistan grinds on, many soldiers (not to mention critics) are beginning to seriously question how much is really being accomplished there.

In many ways, the war strategy has moved from one focused on the “key” areas of contention in the country: large cities, major thoroughfares, and borders with neighboring nations. But more and more, the fight is being taken to minute, previously unknown (to foreigners at least) villages and towns, with American and Afghan forces trying to clear the Taliban out of the country one building at a time.

As you may have guessed, this isn’t going all that well. This war has been a difficult one since it began way back in October of 2001, and I think it’s safe to say that it hasn’t gotten much easier.

The real problem behind this war’s difficulty has been the Taliban’s elusiveness and at-best shadowy presence in the country. Since being forced from formal power by Operation Enduring Freedom (the post-9/11 military retaliation), the Taliban has snaked into the shadows of the country, using fear to maintain small cells of power-by-terror that dot Afghanistan. Fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan is similar to trying to wave away clouds of smoke; as soon as they’re cleared out of one village, chances are they’ll pop up in another. To add salt to the soldiers’ wounds of seemingly pointless skirmish after seemingly pointless skirmish, many civilians in these tiny townships are far from cooperative. Some will simply play dumb or mute, some may lie, and some even signal troop movements to Taliban fighters nearby.

But can these people really be blamed for this? The Taliban has a near stranglehold on many of the common people across much of Afghanistan, especially in areas out of the reach of government and police forces. They’re held under the extremists’ power by threats and violence, so it only makes sense that their loyalties are more likely to lie with the people who will kill them or their families if they defect.

All the same, this makes the job of American soldiers immensely difficult. Tracking this secondary, shadow government of religious extremism is nearly impossible to do effectively when the people in the villages they’re attempting to clear are afraid to cooperate. The idea behind this small-village strategy has been to expand American presence in Afghanistan, essentially giving Taliban fighters fewer safe zones and places to seek refuge or terrorize civilians. The problem is, as the NYT article put it, is “translating presence into lasting success.” I used the analogy of smoke before: You may be able to clear the smoke of the Taliban away temporarily, but it somehow always manages to flow back in after you go.

This war, which has already been trudging forward for more than 9 years, still seems like a dead end (and an expensive one at that). I know that the Taliban’s influence is a difficult one to root out, and that the group poses a very significant threat, both to people in the region and around the world. But how much longer can we keep trying? How much progress has really been made? The government in Afghanistan, nominally headed by Hamid Karzai, is corrupt at best, and many Afghan security forces (such as police or military) are either afraid or equally corrupt! This really makes one question how much the US has accomplished in Afghanistan. We’ve captured a few important Taliban figures, sure, but there has been little factual evidence that our efforts there are having much success.

Does this mean I know what to do? No. I won’t claim to be a five-star general! I do, however, think that the US must refocus and redouble our efforts towards the reformation of the Afghan government and local forces. There can only be stability in this country if the people who live and belong in it know how to take their security and liberty into their own hands.

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New Hope for Marriage Equality

Maybe the day when LGBT individuals can have full and equal rights in the US is closer than we thought!

For once, the odds seem to be in gay rights’ favor! A number of recent events seem to be indicating that gay rights are advancing much faster than anyone might have expected only a short while ago.

Over the past months and years of Barack Obama’s presidency, many liberals and gay rights activists have been becoming increasingly frustrated toward the president for what had been his general spinelessness towards issues involving homosexuality. The president had been timid toward this crucial issue for the first half of his presidency, using carefully measured words and precisely articulated yet vague statements to postpone his having to make any kind of real statement on the issue.

But, just recently, there have been a number of crucial developments for gay rights in the States. It’s well-known by now that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy restricting homosexuality in the US Armed Forces was repealed, when President Obama signed the action into law on December 22, 2010. But it hasn’t taken effect yet! DADT is technically still in place. But it’s starting to look like Obama and the current Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, are taking steps toward really taking this ridiculous policy off the table for good.

More importantly though, the Obama administration (and accompanying Justice Department) declared on Wednesday that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, and the attorney general directed the Justice Department to stop defending it in court. In essence, the Obama administration is flatly refusing to defend the law any longer. This has been, I think a watershed moment, both in the advancement of equal rights for LGBT people and in Barack Obama’s presidency. It has come after two years of Obama’s middle-of-the-road attempts at politics and policy, which were a dark disappointment after his promises for “change we can believe in.”

Though the president’s views on gay marriage are hazy and non-committal at best, he has said that his thoughts on the matter are “evolving,” a word which suggests that he’s coming around on this issue. About time! His decision to stop defending DOMA is not only an incredible step forward for gay rights, it’s also a signal that he may be starting to move back toward the more lofty promises of his campaign, and really bring about positive change. It seems like the president has realized that he’s not going to gain the support of conservative voters either way, so he’s made the (probably wise) decision to consolidate his voter base on the liberal side of politics he comes from. Finally, Obama is moving from a half-hearted defender of gay rights to a much more direct and aggressive advocate for progress.

But that’s not all! There’s more! (obscure Dan Savage reference!) The general conservative response to the administration’s decision has been half-hearted and feeble, to say the least. Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney have said nothing about it so far, and the strongest politicians’ reaction came from Mike Huckabee, who only said the president’s decision was “utterly inexplicable.” The responses to this support the argument that opposition to gay marriage is fading in the Republican party (thank God!). But why is this happening? One theory that’s been proposed, and I agree, is that our current economic crisis has changed the subject of controversy from social issues to financial ones, so most Republicans’ first concern at the moment is budget-cutting, not “defending traditional family values.”

All the same, conservative religious groups like the Family Research Council have of course given their two cents, insisting that Obama’s decision is simply pandering to gay rights groups. But, in this author’s opinion, things are looking up for gay rights, overall! DADT has been (nominally) repealed, DOMA has been directly challenged by the current administration, and conservatives are putting up less resistance to the advancements of gay rights and marriage equality. And while there’s still a long road ahead, the last few weeks and months have seen gay rights moving forward in leaps and bounds.

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America: Over-Defended (Part 2)

How many more of these do we really need?

(This post is a continuation of America: Over-Defended (Part 1), which you can find right here. Read that first! Not very good blog etiquette, I know, but I wanna keep these posts kinda short and sweet.)

A good (if vague) principle to use to combat this, in my opinion, is to start treating the Department of Defense as just that, defensive. America seems to be constantly gearing up for total war, and it’s costing us a shitload of money to do so. Our country has always been a subtly imperial one, worming our military tentacles in wherever possible. In a way, America is a very imperialistic country, but in a subtle, subversive kind of way. There are more than 700 United States military bases across the globe (and 6,000 on US and territory soil), forming a spider’s web of armed power. (My figures are from here) While American imperialism is far from obvious (or perhaps even totally intentional), the simple fact is that American military presence is firmly established almost everywhere in the world. This “passive imperialism” (I think I came up with that myself!) further strengthens my argument that America hardly needs to invest in even more military power, at least for now. In fact, we may benefit from pulling up roots in some more secure areas. After all, as George Bush so deftly showed with Iraq, the United States has mastered rushing into volatile and delicate situations with little reserve.

Back to my defensive Department of Defense idea. As the name implies, the DoD’s primary purpose is, well, defense. According to their website, defense.gov, “The mission of the Department of Defense is to provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country.” Notice that its stated purpose is to deter war, not engage in it. The proper use of a standing army is as a defensive measure, a way to keep America and its people from being devastated by war. It is not meant to be used as the arm of American ideology, in the Middle East or elsewhere.

The simple fact is that no country, not even America, can pour so much money into defense without expecting serious drawbacks. If we want our country to excel in the coming years, then it’s imperative that military spending is drastically reduced, and fast.

Here’s how much we’re paying.

 

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America: Over-Defended (Part 1)

The United States is well-known as the strongest military power in the world, and with good reason. Few would claim that America is lacking in military might, and those few would pretty stupid. America has long been the predominant military power in the modern world, and this trend is likely to continue for quite a while.

Simply put, America’s armed forces are more than a few cuts above the rest. But just how far ahead do we need to be? America’s military dominance comes with a substantial price tag. At the time of this post’s writing, America’s defense budget was 739.2 billion dollars. For comparison,  China’s budget for 2010 was 78.6 billion dollars – which is almost the exact sum Robert Gates is proposing we cut from our own defense budget. Got that? The amount we’re hoping to cut from our military spending is the same as China’s entire military spending. Notice from the graph that China is the second largest spender in the world, next to us, and they still pale in comparison.

And it’s not as if America will be put at critical risk if spending were to be cut. America has (for the most part) gotten its money’s worth from its colossal military spending. We’re the world leaders in more or less every kind of weaponry, with eleven times as many aircraft carriers as China, nine times as many nuclear submarines, and a Marine corps twenty times the size of theirs (figures all taken from GlobalSecurity.org). So it seems fairly obvious that we have little to worry about from China, which I’ll remind you is the second largest military spender after us. We’re winning by a huge margin, so to speak.

So, you’ve probably been wondering what the title’s all about. How can a country possibly be over-defended? Well here’s the thing. As I hope most, if not all, of my readers know, the country is facing a pretty titanic budget deficit at the moment. And at the very same time, our country has fallen behind in such crucial areas as education, in no small part because of the lack of money that can be dedicated to it. In 2006, “National Defense” accounted for 57% of our budget, while “Education, training, employment, and social services” got only 8%. There’s a reason Chinese students are destroying American students in areas like math and science, and that reason is that America is pouring over half of its budget into weaponry.

So what needs to happen? We can’t just stop making weapons and vehicles, or stop sending bullets to troops, after all. But there are smart ways to cut back in the areas in which we already excel. Take aircraft carriers for example. As I mentioned earlier, America faces little competition from China in this area, and this trend is common throughout the world. Of the 15 other countries that use or have used aircraft carriers, none has more than 2 carriers in service. By comparison, America has 11. The last aircraft carrier produced by the US, the USS George H. W. Bush, cost 6.2 billion dollars to crank out, and the next one slated for production, the USS Gerald R. Ford will cost around 7.8 billion. Do we really need to be pouring this colossal amount of money into more ships, when we already have more than five times as many of these as the next countries up from us? I could rattle off more examples, but I don’t want to waste too much of your time!

This post is already quite long, so I’m going to break it into two parts. Come back in just a bit for part two!

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Egypt in the Army’s Hands

Further developments in Egypt! As you may have heard, the Army has been deployed in many parts of Egypt, effectively replacing the police.

The problem with this, from Mubarak’s perspective at least, is that the people love the Army.

While it wouldn’t quite be accurate to say that the Egyptian Army’s machine guns fire jelly beans and butterflies (actually, jelly beans would really do some damage at those speeds), the Army has thus far allowed protestors free (peaceful) reign of the streets, preventing only violent action and the destruction of government property. The people on the street certainly aren’t feeling pressured or threatened by this new military presence either. In fact, many civilians have been seen cheerfully chatting with soldiers as others hold up signs and shout “Down with Mubarak, down with the regime!”

The sentiment on the ground seems to be that the Army is taking the job of peacekeeping very literally, taking no aggressive action against civilians. Ironically, the heavily armed and armored military presence here is both more reserved and more welcome in Cairo than the notoriously violent police ever were.

The Army here has pulled coups in the past, and it wouldn’t be particularly surprising to me if the very troops Mubarak called on to maintain order were the same ones to take him out of the office he used to issue that command. Many people (this author included) think that the ultimate decision about Egypt’s political future is in the hands of the Egyptian Army. Nearly 500,000 troops strong, and led by generals of uncertain motives en rie Mubarak, the armed forces here will be the tipping point in the next few days and weeks. I’ll be keeping an eye on things over there!

PS! I’m posting a poll (which I’m guessing will get no responses cuz I don’t have readership yet) about whether Mubarak will remain in power! What do you think?

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