Time to remind ourselves why we went to the Middle East in the first place…

June 14, 2014

As the Sunni militants close in on the capital of  Iraq, this headline: Iraqi General Insists Baghdad is Safe From Insurgents — that’s from the New York Times (not the Times itself claiming that). Is Baghdad Bob back? The guy who made a fool out of himself saying the forces of Saddam Hussein were prevailing against the U.S. even as they were obviously crumbling. Now the tables seem to be turned and the government we reluctantly back is in danger of being ousted by Islamic terrorists. Reports differ. Some say there is an indication the government is beginning to hold its own — but up to now the security forces we trained have just thrown down their weapons and ran away.

 

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It might just be time that the United States stepped back and took another look at why it got involved in the Middle East in the first place.

I mean let’s be honest. We did not go in there to free people from ruthless dictators. We did not go in there with the specific or primary intent of making their lives better, although certainly we would want that.

We went in there originally to keep our oil supply chain open (the first Gulf War). Anything positive besides that, such as creating freer societies and more equal economic opportunity for all, were just side benefits.

I recall during the first Iraq War or maybe the second a young person I know (who I will not name) looked at me seriously when I made the remark while filling my gas tank of my car that this is what our soldiers were dying for. This young person questioned what I meant by that. The indoctrination via our own government/political propaganda plus the accepted narrative from the main stream media was that we were going in there to save people from the ruthless dictator Saddam Hussein and to keep Al Qaeda from bringing its war to America and other parts of the free world.

(9/11 played into this all, but certainly we did not wage all the wars to go after one man, Osama Bin Laden and a band of terrorists, and the first Gulf War was before 9/11 course, and 9/11 did not come out of Iraq, even though in reaction to it we went to war with Iraq — you know, how is this all going to be taught in history? It makes no sense.)

But oil is what is was always about. Well that and the ongoing and age-old struggle between Eastern and Western cultures, perhaps.

Make no mistake about it, there are elements in the societies of that part of the world who would rather more closely emulate what we have in the West, although they would likely want to do so while retaining much of their own culture.

Unfortunately religion and tribal rivalries seem to be the dividing factor in these societies. Its bad enough that Muslims often hate Christians or Jews or others who are not of their religion, but they can’t even get along with each other, being divided in various sects (and I admittedly don’t understand all of that, except they don’t get along). In Iraq the division between Sunni and Shia seems to cause the most strife (and that is a fact elsewhere too). When Saddam Hussein was in charge the Sunni minority controlled things. And now under the present leader, Nuri al-Maliki, the reverse is true. It seems to not have occurred to these people that religion should be kept out of government, just as it has not occurred to some in our own country, now that I think about it.

Of course those hungry for power exploit ignorance and do their best to maintain ignorance in order to set people against each other and in the meantime gather all the goodies from society themselves (the way of the world, really).

But back to why we are there.

It was primarily oil all the time.

Well as I understand it the United States is now energy independent. We are willing to put up with the possible ill effects of fracking and oil train wrecks and potential environmental problems caused by the proposed Keystone pipeline to be energy independent.

(A government report claims that the pipeline would cut down on the potential of oil train wrecks.)

So why are we fighting wars in the Middle East?

Yes, Islamic terrorists probably do pose a threat to the whole world, but they are going to have a hard time financing themselves without oil to hold us hostage over.

We can and must defend ourselves, but maybe getting sucked into no-win wars in the Middle East is not the answer.

And anyway, like I repeat like a stuck record, the only justified war can be one that is fought to win.

It’s shameful how we send people to die and people to be maimed for life in causes we can’t seem to get fully committed to.

If it is deemed we have to go back to Iraq, it better be to win. And what is winning? Winning is vanquishing the enemy and taking control of the area ourselves for a time and gradually turning it back to those who live there once they can learn to govern themselves.

If all that is not possible, well so be it. Forget it. We can now do without their precious oil.

If they are willing to kill each other over religion I’m sorry for that, just leave us out of it.

P.s.

I don’t minimize the threat of so-called Islamic terrorism on the whole world. The latest seems to be that a group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) now poses a more serious threat than Al Qaeda, the latter group now parting ways from it, supposedly because the former is too ruthless. But I think a strong and prosperous Western society not bogged down in costly no-win wars over oil will be better able to protect itself.

P.s. P.s.

Adding to the confusion, Iran sees ISIS as a threat and backs the current Iraqi government. I just read that Maliki might use the threat of Iran, our arch enemy, coming to his aid as a wedge to get U.S. help to save him. Oh what a tangled web…

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We need energy independence; Why is China getting the oil we fought for? And what I got out of “The Hurt Locker”

March 20, 2010

Back during the presidential campaign the mantra from the Republican right (and elsewhere) was “drill baby drill“, meaning we should drill anywhere and everywhere, including off pristine and not-so-pristine beaches and the Alaskan wilderness for oil to make America energy independent.

Well, with some limits — I’m not a big fan of offshore drilling (it’s ugly and the ocean is too valuable to mess up) — I think that is not a bad idea.

It’s a lot better than sending thousands of troops to Iraq (and Kuwait earlier) to die or be maimed for life in the name of oil — and that is what it has all been for.

And what really burns me up is the fact that we have put so much military effort into Iraq and now China is reaping the rewards with big oil contracts there. And why the China oil grab is not getting more press is beyond me.

Did the U.S. not earn the rights to Iraqi oil with our thousands of deaths there? If not, what was it all about? While I am not sure taking over a nation for its oil is legal or right, that is kind of what war is all about or at least the only logical thing that one could have been about.

And about being energy independent, turns out there is a lot of oil right under LA. I went to the La Brea Tar Pits when I was a kid. Turns out there is still even more oil than anyone ever knew about right under LA and some of the fields might get new development and already be grandfathered in so there won’t have to be any new environmental studies done (although I think that is being challenged).

We need to keep searching for and researching about other energy sources. But meantime we have to use what we know works.

And one piece I read recently stated that for our economy to prosper as it has in the past, we have to have a relatively cheap source of energy. So some of this new “green” type energy or some of the more bizarre ideas (you know, getting energy from the ocean waves) may not be economically feasible.

But again, this China thing. While we do have this symbiotic relationship with China — they produce everything we used to and we buy it — make no mistake, China is our competitor (for one it’s still Communist China) and no doubt sees itself as our successor as the world’s great power.

During the first Gulf War it was unsuccessfully argued that we should not jump in because we were not fighting to save Kuwait (and it was not a democracy, but a kingdom) but to protect our oil supply and that was not a good enough reason to risk the lives of our soldiers (actually many would think it was, but would perhaps be ashamed to argue such).

Then George W. followed the neo-con blueprint for making the Middle East our domain and protecting our oil supply, and the rest is history. We shed the blood and now China, who shed none, reaps much of the reward.

And now I’ll switch gears slightly and note that I just watched the award winning movie “The Hurt Locker” .

The message I got from the movie was two-fold. One was that some are attracted to war because of the adrenaline rush and the excitement that just can’t be gained any other way for them.

The other is that war is largely senseless. You sit there and watch the movie, which really has little story line or plot, and ask yourself: what is this all about?

Well war is fought when two parties vie for power and resources and get or I should say dupe third parties into shedding the blood.

There may be times when war is unpreventable. An example might be if the nation is actually attacked in force (and I don’t mean a one-time hit by terrorists).

And there’s even confusion in that. Japan attacked the United States, but not before we tried to choke off its oil supply, and that because of the terrible things it was doing in China, but Japan wasn’t doing anything in China western powers had not done there before (okay that might be debatable, but that’s not really the point here) and it felt it had been left out of the spoils of war it was supposed to share with western powers after World War l.

Germany did not attack the U.S. (although it might well have eventually).

North Korea did not attack the United States.

North Vietnam did not attack the U.S. But we bombed and burned and killed all over South Vietnam and North Vietnam to save South Vietnam. Decades later, Vietnam, now one country, and all under Communist rule, is finally recovering quite nicely from our help.

Of course we all know that those two just mentioned wars were really hot war proxy fights between primarily the U.S. and the old Soviet Union, and to some extent Communist China too, as part of the Cold War.

It takes a brave president to stand up to our enemies. But politically I think it would take an even braver president to stand up to those who insist we fight unnecessary wars.


If we suffered Vietnam-style casualty rates the war would be over, won or not, and war and oil usually do mix…

June 2, 2009

War has become so blase that the fact that four more U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan did not make any headlines.

ADD 1: If you really wanted to gauge public opinion of the war on terror, just imagine what it might be if we had casualties on the scale of the Vietnam War. During a two-week period in April  in Vietnam in 1968 the U.S. suffered 752 combat deaths. In Iraq in 2007 the U.S. had 334 deaths over a four-month period, and that was considered alarming. In Vietnam that high of a casualty rate with no end in sight turned public opinion steadfastly against the war. I hate to be cynical, but the public seems to be able to put up with lower casualty numbers, regardless of the justification or practicability of a war. I realized that the Democratic party victories in the congressional elections of 2006 and the presidential election of 2008 were seen as a kind of referendum that was negative on our war policy, but I notice that the war on terror continues, seemingly much as it would have under Bush/Cheney if they could have continued or even John McCain (of course the referendum was more related to the economy during the presidential election and Obama did admit in his campaign that he would push harder in Afghanistan). If the public mood was as anti-war as it became in the early 70s, we would be done with the whole thing, right or wrong.

And back to where I began with this blog:

I first read the fact that there had been four more combat deaths in Afghanistan while reading my morning newspaper on Tuesday in the ninth paragraph (on the jump page) down in a somewhat oblique reference in a story. Admittedly, the paper long ago gave up trying to be the latest in news on the national and world front. But you would think the death of four U.S. service personnel would rate a little higher priority. But maybe that was kind of the point of the story. It was something about the military using the latest communication tool for those with short attention spans, Twitter.

News that U.S. and Afghan forces had killed four “militants”  (I guess that’s what we call the enemy) was put out via Twitter by the military, according to the story, as a way to reach an audience that gets its news outside the traditional sources.

Let’s cut through the bull here – the military is using news selectively for propaganda to reach young people to ra ra ra the war (and I realize morale is important, but so is honest and complete info). Conveniently, as the story indicates, the fact the four service people were killed was not tweeted. Supposedly, according to the story, that was because, well, I did not get this part, something about that all has to go through NATO command.

But using that story and then searching the internet, I finally gathered that there had been four more U.S. combat deaths.

Now in traditional wars, four deaths in one day is not really big news unless you might turn it around and say that ONLY four were killed. Back in the old-time wars thousands were killed in a day or even less than a day. Then we went to hundreds, and today in our wars we go to things like one, none, seven, four, that kind of thing. But it all adds up and it seems to go on forever.

(The latest figures I got off of Wikipedia show there have been at least 4,296 U.S. combat deaths in the Iraq war since 2003, and 677 in Afghanistan since 2001 (I don’t think this includes the latest deaths, and of course there are deaths from other nations’ forces and the of Iraqis themselves and thousands wounded.)

And maybe too close attention to the negative gets in the way of the mission. Maybe that is why we lost the Vietnam War. We concentrated on our losses and not our wins – that often seems to be the new history (revisionist?) of the whole thing I see these days. I just watched an Vietnam War documentary and that’s partly why I’m blogging this today. But I am not a convert yet. I still think Vietnam was a deadly mistake for us and also a shame because we sacrificed so many without having a clear cut purpose or resolve. I hope we are not replaying history in another part of the world now.

No we probably should not have screaming headlines that say FOUR KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN. But at the same time we should not get so numb or jaded about the war effort that we just put it all out of our mind.

The fact that the Military would see fit to brag that we killed four enemy, but leave out that we lost four of our own reminds me why we need independent reporting so we can get the full picture.

And I go back and forth here because I realize that just as the government and military can be biased and misleading in its reporting, so can so-called independent sources.

I have to admit that the tone of the reporting on television and the newspapers and news magazines for the most part during most of the Vietnam War seemed negative against the war. We were told that we seemed to be meddling in the affairs of a nation that had a corrupt government and had a civil war going on (what would have we thought if England, who leaned toward the confederacy in its feelings, had interfered in our own Civil War?). But the civil war in Vietnam was being aided and abetted by the Soviet Union and to a lesser extent communist China. But the idea of North and South Vietnam was basically an artificial one – after all they were all Vietnamese and it was a Cold War construct that created a North and South, just like the two Koreas. We were told that there were no front lines and that despite our overwhelming fire power (most of the time), the enemy seemed to be inexhaustible, anywhere and everwhere, and could take heavy losses and come back forever. We were also told our own government would not let our forces go all the way (and I guess that was because the public had been convinced that wars could be controlled, as if run by a rheostat device or a light dimmer – escalate, de-escalate, which begs the question, why not just turn them off then?).

Probably our biggest mistake in Vietnam was not to do everything we could to disrupt the supply lines and go to the source of supply in North Vietnam. We finally did do some of that late in the war, but by that time support at home for the war was depleted. I actually have to credit Richard Nixon for some of his actions – but it was too late and not carried far enough, because as I mentioned, public support was gone. I think he must have thought that somehow we could stave off the enemy a little longer and that South Vietnamese forces would fight on their own and in the meantime we could get out and haver “peace with honor” (Nixon’s own words)). But without our continued involvement and with the fact that their government was corrupt, there was no hope.

Okay, so much history. Maybe only useful to history buffs. But could we apply this to today? Do we really know what we are trying to do in Iraq and Afghanistan? Personally, as much as I follow current events, I keep asking that question.

(In the beginning – the first Gulf War, it was all about oil, and if we are honest, even though we have 9/11 to consider, doesn’t oil still become the bottom line here? And if does, does that make it wrong? Why do we not want to admit it?  And see Add 2 at the end of this blog.)

George W’s (and dark Dick Cheney’s) concept seemed to be of an all-encompassing never-ending war against not a particular force or group or nation, but a concept (U.S. vs. Concept) called “terror,” or as W pronounced in “Terrr”.

President Obama seems to be trying to extricate us from Iraq (ever so carefully), but has vowed to fight on in Afghanistan. He would have never have got the support of the electorate if he had simply just run as an updated version of George McGovern and Vietnam. Americans were nearly always divided on Vietnam and seem to be on this one, but all out surrender is not to our liking (even if we did essentially quit Vietnam).

But even if we were able to subdue those who seem to support terror against us in Afghanistan, who is to say the forces of terror will not pop up somewhere else?

Bottom line here:

The reason we fought in Vietnam was that we had a well entrenched Cold War policy of containment of communism and along with that we followed the “domino theory” that said if one country falls, they all will. China fell, South Korea would have if not for our defense of it, and no one wanted to be blamed for losing South Vietnam (even though in the end we did lose it).

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight we find all these years later that communism, although a terrible form of government as practiced, with its totalitarianism and its police state mentality, crumbled seemingly by itself from its inefficiencies and failure to catch the imagination of the people it subdued. Seems given a chance most of them want capitalism and the goodies and freedom that come with it – although there is some indication that some former communist citizens miss the social safety net – in Russia, the former East Germany, as examples. But the last major power to still have communism, China, seems to be evolving into a capitalist society, with only the old-line government officials holding out.

Had we known all this (and we couldn’t have), we could have avoided conflict and just waited it out, perhaps. Of course the fact that the Soviet Union decided to spend so much of its resources fighting us in places such as Vietnam, which was really a proxy war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, helped lead it to its demise. It essentially went bankrupt (oops, I shouldn’t mention that, a country going bankrupt).

And isn’t it ironic that after another proxy war where we fueled the insurgents in Afghanistan against their Soviet neighbors who also expressed concerns about disruptive forces there, we find ourselves fighting many of those same insurgents we once aided, to include Osama bin Laden, if he is still alive.

A lot of disjointed thoughts here maybe. But I got this idea originally because I was reading a book about Pearl Harbor and the fact that we conducted a policy that led to it (not that we were in the wrong – that can be debated). And I thought about how in World War II we fought a costly war with Japan only to become good buddies later and then for a time we were even threatened by their own prosperity that we helped create (that role has now gone to China, whom we saved from Japan).

It’s all about making sure we really know what we are trying to do and what the consequences might be and deciding whether we should continually try to fight the whole world or whether we should try to live in peace, but keep our defenses strong. The general public can remain in ignorant bliss in all of this and leave it to the politicians, but there are risks.

Add 2:

I made a reference to fighting for oil earlier in this blog. Related to that I recall I blogged some months ago, possibly in August, that here we have been fighting in Iraq and we know it has something (a lot) to do with the fact that most of the world’s oil is in that region and meanwhile China has signed a deal for oil with the government we helped install there after executing Saddam Hussein. I just ran across an article on the web (dated April Fools Day, but it’s apparently too true) that says our main rival for world oil, China, has indeed finalized an agreement to develop an oil field in Iraq that is expected to produce 25,000 barrels per day for the first three years and 115,000 barrels per day for the following six years . China had initiated the deal in the 1990s when Hussein was in power.

So, yes, it is about oil, but whose oil? Seems like if we fight for oil, we should get it all. (I don’t recall China helping us out in Iraq).

But kind of related to the idea of fighting for oil, I ran across this in a history of the Vietnam War on Wikipedia: “Because of the vast Dutch oil discoveries in nearby Indonesia, first the French, then the Americans, wanted to explore the broad Vietnamese contenental shelf.” Today Vietnam is not listed as a top oil exporter, but it is an exporter. It installed its first oil refinery in February.

P.s. It occurs to me in all of this that the thinking of policy makers seems to have been that the U.S. can fight wars if casualty numbers can be kept down low enough that there will be no significant public backlash. We all would like to minimize casualties, but in so doing we run the risk of both prolonging wars (thus raising casualty rates) and being unsuccessful in the long run.