Report from the Fronts #17: June 1916

The Battle of Jutland came to an end on 1 June, but the forces deployed for the engagement took one more ship.  The U-boats had played no active role in the battle, but they had laid mines, and on 5 June the armored cruiser HMS Hampshire, on its way from Scapa Flow to Archangel, Russia, struck one off the west coast of the Orkney Islands.  Because of the extremely rough weather, only twelve crewmen out of 662 crew and passengers survived the sinking of the warship.  Among the missing was Field Marshall Herbert Kitchener, the literal icon of the war.

Uncle Herb Wants You!

Uncle Herb Wants You!

Herbert Kitchener

Herbert Kitchener

HMS Hampshire

HMS Hampshire

 

 

 

Kitchener was in fact in many ways an icon of the High Victorian Age, the victor at Omdurman (Sudan 1898) and the Second Boer War (1899-1902), literally the face of Britain in the Great War and a man (yes, this is very Victorian) whose sexuality was constantly questioned. He was criticized for some of his actions in the Boer War – the Breaker Morant case and the concentration camps – and for ammunition problems at the start of the Great War, but it cannot be denied that he was instrumental in dramatically increasing munitions production and laying the foundation for the immense army sent to the continent.

Less well known (at least outside the knitting community – my world class knitting spouse informed of this) is that he was responsible for the “Kitchener stitch.”  During the war he exhorted women to knit sweaters, scarves and socks for the boys, but it turned out the seam across the front of the sock irritated Tommy toes.  Kitchener came up with a stitch that eliminated the seam – or at least he took credit for it.  Inasmuch as Victorian Field Marshalls did not knit, he must have obtained the idea from a female acquaintance, who remains unknown to history.

The Kitchener stitch

The Kitchener stitch

On the Western Front everyone was killing time waiting for the Big Push on the Somme, but that did not mean that Death took a holiday.  On 2 June the Germans, hoping to divert allied resources from the coming offensive, initiated the Battle of Mont Sorrel in the Ypres sector.  This was a paltry affair, involving only three divisions on each side, but when it ended on 14 June, there were 8000 British/Canadian casualties and 5765 German – and no gains.

After the battle

After the battle

Battle of Mont Sorrel

Battle of Mont Sorrel

And the Blood Pump at Verdun continued, though at a relative trickle now.  On 2 June the Germans launched an offensive east of the Meuse again, beginning with an attack on Fort Vaux.  The fort was taken on 7 June, when after a subterranean battle in the galleries the garrison surrendered, having had no water for three days.  Taking the position cost the Germans 2740 casualties to 600 for the French, of which 246 were prisoners; the capture of the fort advanced the German line about 70 yards.

The essence of Verdun

The essence of Verdun

Fort Vaux

Fort Vaux

Inside Fort Faux

Inside Fort Vaux

The main offensive, covering a three mile front, began on 23 June and quickly advanced a mile, capturing Forts Thiaumont and Froidterre but failing before Fort Souville.  The Germans reached Chapelle Sainte-Fine, only a bit more than three miles from the Verdun citadel, but were thrown back to Fleury by a counterattack.  This halted the advance, and with supply problems and concern about the coming Somme offensive (the initial bombardment began on 24 June) the Germans called off the attack.  Chapelle was as close as they would ever get to Verdun.  The village of Fleury, incidentally, would change hands fifteen more times by the middle of August.

All that is left of Fleury

All that is left of Fleury

Fort Thiaumont

Fort Thiaumont

 

 

German advance from February to June

German advance from February to June

 

In Italy the Trentino offensive ended on 3 June, and Cadorna launched a counterattack eleven days later; it did not achieve enough to earn a name as a distinct battle. Further east, Greece was on the verge of civil war, with the pro-German royalist government in Athens and the pro-Entente Venizelist (remember him?) forces in the north.  On 3 June the liberals declared martial law in Macedonia, essentially ending any rule from Athens, and on 6 June the Allies initiated a “pacific blockade” of Greece to put pressure on the government.  On 21 June the Allies delivered a note demanding that Greek forces be demobilized and a new government formed; it was accepted and the blockaded was ended the following day.

Pro-Venizelos restaurant in Thessaloniki

Pro-Venizelos restaurant in Thessaloniki

King Constantine I and Prime Minister Venizelos in 1913

King Constantine I and Prime Minister Venizelos in 1913

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, to the northeast the Russians, under pressure from the Allies to draw German and Austrian troops away from Verdun and the Italian Front, began their own summer offensive. General Aleksei Brusilov, commander of the Southwestern Front, convinced the Tsar to allow an attack into Galicia, which commenced on 4 June.  The “Brusilov Offensive” sent 633,000 Russians against 467,000 Austrians and Germans along a 300 mile front, and employing limited but more accurate artillery fire and the type of shock units the Germans were using at Verdun, Brusilov immediately broke through the Austrian lines.

Alexei Evert

Alexei Evert

Aleksei Brusilov

Aleksei Brusilov

Brusilov Offensive

Brusilov Offensive

Within a week the Austrians were in headlong retreat, and Brusilov had already bagged 200,000 prisoners.  The penetration exposed his northern flank, however, and General Alexei Evert, the commander of the Western Front, just to the north, was opposed to the whole offensive and delayed moving out.  As a result, the Germans and Austrians were able to bring up new troops, and when Evert finally attacked on 18 June, he made little headway, partly because he learned nothing from Brusilov’s new tactics.  Evert was after all responsible for the disaster at Lake Naroch in March 1915.  Nevertheless, by 24 June the Russians had captured Bukovina, the southernmost part of Galicia.

June also saw more Turkish and British activity in western Persia and the merry chase after Lettow-Vorbeck continued in Africa, but the big news in June was the beginning of the Arab Revolt.  The British and French had been making big promises to Arab leaders since the war had started, hoping to stir revolts that would tie down Ottoman troops, and in early June (the date is not clear) Sharif Hussein bin Ali, fearing the Turks were about to depose him, signed up with the Allies.  As the Sharif and Emir of Mecca, Hussein could field some 50,000 troops, though they were woefully short of modern weapons.

Sharif Hussein bin Ali

Sharif Hussein bin Ali

The Hejaz

The Hejaz

On 5 June Hussein’s sons Ali (who would succeed his father as King of the Hejaz) and Faisal (who would later be King of Syria then King of Iraq) jumped the gun by attacking Medina but were easily repulsed by the Turkish garrison.  Five days later Hussein proclaimed the Hejaz independent and colorfully signaled the beginning of the Revolt by firing a shot from the Hashemite palace.  5000 of his men promptly attacked the Turkish forts in the city and on the third day captured the Ottoman Deputy Governor, who ordered his men to surrender.  Better equipped and trained than the Arabs, the 1000 Turkish troops refused, and the fighting continued into the next month.  With British naval and air support the port of Jidda was also attacked by Arab forces on 10 June and fell six days later.

Faisal (in 1933)

Faisal (in 1933)

Ali (in 1933)

Ali (in 1924)

Arab soldiers

Arab soldiers

No, the most romantic figure of the Great War, T.E. Lawrence, was not yet directly involved, but the movement that would dramatically alter the face of the Middle East was underway.  Colonel Mark Sykes (of the Sykes-Picot agreement) even designed for the Arabs a flag, which would be the pattern for the national flags of most of the post-war Arab kingdoms.

Flag of the Hejaz

Flag of the Hejaz

Mark Sykes

Mark Sykes

 

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Report from the Fronts #12: March 1916

(I have said next to nothing about life in the trenches, and rather than spend time detailing the unimaginable environment of the Western Front, I recommend two books. Richard Holmes, Tommy (2004) is an exhaustive but delightful study of every aspect of trench life, and Ernst Jünger, Storm of Steel (In Stahlgewittern) (many editions) is the sometimes surreal memoir of a German soldier who lived through the entire war.  I have discovered that my major chronological source for the war was in error regarding the Fifth Battle of the Isonzo, which began in March and not February.)

 

When we left Verdun at the end of February, the German offensive had stalled because of mud, and von Falkenhayn began considering whether to cancel the operation.  The expectation had been that artillery could suppress the enemy guns on the west side of the Meuse, but this did not prove to be the case, and the French artillery, well-positioned on heights and behind hills, wreaked havoc among the German troops advancing along and to the east bank of the river.  But the front crossed the Meuse north of Verdun, and von Falkenhayn was convinced by subordinates that a southward advance on the west side of the river could silence the French guns.  General Heinrich von Gossler’s plan involved assaulting the village of Mort-Homme and Hill 265 (sounds like Vietnam) near the Meuse on 6 March and then Avocourt and Hill 305 to the west on 9 March.

Phillipe Pétain (far left)

Phillipe Pétain (far left)

Falkenhayn

Falkenhayn

Verdun front at the end of March

Verdun front at the end of March

Like so many offensives on the Western Front, it did not work out that way.  Despite a heavy bombardment – Hill 304 was lowered by seventeen feet – the French artillery and counterattacks slowed the advance and inflicted great casualties.  Only after a week did the Germans achieve the objectives for the first day, capturing Hill 265 on 14 March.  On 22 March two German divisions attacked a position near Hill 304 and were slaughtered by a rain of shells, and the offensive came to an end.  By the end of the month the Germans had suffered 81,607 casualties for minimal gains, and Verdun was still French.  There would be nine more months of this.  The commander on the French side at this time, incidentally, was General Philippe Pétain, who would later become the head of state of the Germany puppet Vichy France (1940-44). 

 

Elsewhere in the war, the Fifth Battle of the Isonzo began on 9 March.  The Italian army in the north had been rested and refurbished, and the French were pressuring Rome for an offensive.  After four failed attempts one must suspect that there was little expectation of any breakthrough, and the point of the operation was in fact to relieve the pressure on the Russians and on Verdun, though how that would happen is not at all clear, especially in the case the French at Verdun.  Even General Cadorna termed the offensive a “demonstration,” which label of course made no difference to the troops, who would be just as dead when shot.

Austrian fort on the Isonzo front

Austrian fort on the Isonzo front

Though some fighting continued to the end of the month, the battle essentially ended after only six days because of the horrible weather conditions, demonstrating once again the futility of these assaults. Despite an almost three to one advantage in men and guns the Italians could make no headway, and each side suffered just under 2000 casualties.  How fine to die for your country in a pointless “demonstration.”  Incidentally, the stony ground and cliffs made this front even more dangerous, since every shell impact would produce a deadly cloud of stone splinters.

Under the same pressure to take some of the heat off the Western Front on 18 March the Russians launched the Lake Naroch offensive in White Russia (Belarus). The Russians had more guns and three times as many troops as the Germans and came up with a somewhat less than novel plan: (inaccurately) shell the German positions for two days and then send bunched formations of infantry charging across the muddy ground.  By the end of the operation on 30 March General Alexei Evert had gained six miles and lost 110,000 men to the Germans’ 20,000 (German estimates).  The Germans promptly retook the territory.

German troops at Naroch

German troops at Naroch

Russian troops at Naroch

Russian troops at Naroch

General Alexei Evert

General Alexei Evert

Meanwhile, the British troops besieged in Kut on the Tigris River had enough food to last until the middle of April, and in any case the spring rains would soon make the whole area a disease-ridden quagmire. On 8 March a relief force of some 20,000 under General Fenton Aylmer reached Dujaila, downriver from Kut, and assaulted a Turkish force half their size.  But the Turks, under the command of Golz Pasha and Halil Pasha (Halil Kut, a major actor in the Armenian genocide), had fortified Dulaila well, having learned a lot about entrenchment from Gallipoli. Aylmer lost about 4000 men to Golz’s 1200 and retreated down the river.  He was sacked on 12 March.

Turkish 6th army field headquarters

Turkish 6th army field headquarters

Halil Pasha - mass murderer

Halil Pasha – mass murderer

General Fenton Aylmer

General Fenton Aylmer

Golz Pasha

Golz Pasha

In Africa General Jan Smuts, who had fought against the British in the Second Boer War, invaded German East Africa (Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania) on 5 March.  With an army of over 70,000 South Africans, Indians and Africans he struck southwest from British East Africa (Kenya), while Belgian forces attacked from the west.  On 10 March Smuts took back Taveta, just east of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and three days later Moshi, south of the peak.  The capture of Kahe, south of Moshi, on 21 March brought an end to the operations around Kilimanjaro; the Germans had left.  Lettow-Vorbeck had only 13,800 troops, mostly Askaris, and had no choice but to withdraw when faced with overwhelming numbers, something easily done given his superior mobility.  The Allies would steadily capture real estate, but never Lettow-Vorbeck, and meanwhile their troops were dying of disease.

Bridge destroyed by Lettow-Vorbeck

Bridge destroyed by Lettow-Vorbeck

General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck

General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck

General Jan Smuts (right)

General Jan Smuts (right)

hard to see map

hard to see map

The remainder of the events of March 1916 were of a political or strategic nature.  True to its word, on 1 March Germany expanded its submarine warfare, ultimately bringing the United States closer to involvement in the war.  On 9 March Germany declared war on Portugal, which had refused to return German steamers captured on the Tagus River in February; with even less reason Austria-Hungary also declared war six days later.  Actually, inasmuch as Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique) bordered on German East Africa there was indeed a point of contact between the two countries, and Lettow-Vorbeck would happily use that territory in his Great Chase with the British.

Lettow-Vorbeck

Lettow-Vorbeck

Allied interference in Persia continued, with Russian operations in the northwest and British forces – the south Persian Rifles under Sir Percy Sykes – in the south.  On 25 December 1915 the Allies had “persuaded” the Shah to appoint a more pro-Entente Prime Minister, Prince Farman Farma, and now on 5 March he and his cabinet were compelled to resign for refusing to support Russian-British control of the Persian military and finances.  Anglo-American meddling in Iranian affairs was just beginning.

Prince Farman Farma and Percy Sykes

Prince Farman Farma and Percy Sykes

            More “resignations.” On 15 (?) March Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, the father of the German navy, resigned as Secretary of State of the Imperial Naval Office, having lost the support of the Kaiser and naval establishment because, ironically, of his support for unrestricted submarine warfare.  More emblematic, on 29 March Alexei Polivanov, who had been struggling to reform the Russian army, resigned as the Minister of War.  In August 1915 he had argued against Nicholas’ assumption of supreme command and thus alienated Alexandra, who persuaded her husband to sack him.  One can hardly get choked up about the impending execution of this couple.

Empress Alexandra

Empress Alexandra

Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz

Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz

Alexei Polivanov

Alexei Polivanov

Finally, on 12 March the Allies held a conference in Chantilly to discuss the summer offensive; the outcome would be the nightmare of the Somme.  And there was another conference at Paris from 26 to 28 March, the result of which was a declaration of unity among the Allied powers: Britain, France, Belgium, Portugal, Italy, Serbia (which technically did not exist at the moment), Russia and Japan.  The Czar must have been delighted to have as an ally the power that had annihilated his Baltic and Far Eastern fleets a decade earlier.  (Yes, Japan; I have been ignoring the relatively trivial events of the Far East and Pacific.)

Paris in 1916

*Paris in 1916

Dying for History: Khaled al-Asa’ad

Khaled al-Asa'ad Hero

                           Khaled al-Asa’ad
                                     Hero

The city of Palmyra is at least 4000 years old and has survived the Assyrians, the wars between Rome and the Persian Empire, the Arab conquest, the Seljuk Turks and the Mongols. Now it is being destroyed by a group of stateless barbarians, ostensibly in the name of their twisted god, but in fact as a public relations program. These buildings are part of the human heritage, and they simply cannot be replaced. That the ISIS scum have been staging mass executions in the theater at Palmyra is horrific enough, but once again, these treasures, these stone messages from worlds long gone are irreplaceable. They are far more worth dying for than a flag.

Palmyra  street

                    Palmyra street

Palmyra theater

                 Palmyra theater

Palmyra

                                    Palmyra

Such was seemingly the conclusion reached by Khaled al-Asa’ad, an archeologist specializing in Palmyra and custodian of the site for forty years before his retirement. When ISIS approached Palmyra/Tadmur in May, he refused all calls for him to flee, and in August he and his son and successor at the site, Walid, were detained by the dogs who call themselves Muslims. Even under torture this magnificent 81 year old man refused to reveal where some of the treasures of Palmyra had been hidden, and on August 18 he was publically beheaded and hung from a lamppost. What has happened to his son is as yet unknown, but thirteen other employees of the Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums have been murdered.

Would I die to defend the Parthenon? I don’t know.

In May the ISIS infidels destroyed the tomb of Mohammed bin Ali, a descendant of the Prophet’s cousin, and the shrine of Nazir Abu Bahaeddine, a prominent 16th century sufi. In June they destroyed the two millennia old Lion of Al-Lat, which had been reconstructed and placed before the Palmyra Museum, and in August they blew up the Temple of Baalshamin, which dated back to the time of the Emperor Hadrian. Never before have I wanted a group of people to suffer in ways rejected by a truly civilized society. Such brings me down to their level, but I don’t care. There is a difference: they all have blood on their hands and I do not. If I could believe in the existence of evil, ISIS would be it.

Pure evil at work

Pure evil at work

The Lion of Al-Lat

              The Lion of Al-Lat

Temple of Baalshamin

           Temple of Baalshamin

And the world does nothing. The United States was at the very least midwife to the birth of this monstrosity, but with no taste for yet another war can do little but hurl death from the heavens and squander even more money on Baghdad, trapped by the now obsolete notion that Iraq is in fact a state. My country would better serve the world by aiding the millions of refugees created by the assault on Saddam’s Iraq. The countries most threatened by the plague of ISIS – Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states – are willing to do very little, disinclined to fight fellow Sunnis, no matter how disgusting, and thus aid Iran or in the case of Turkey more interested in blowing up Kurds. Perhaps if the ISIS terrorists attacked Mecca…

Meanwhile, Khaled al-Asa’ad is dead, sacrificing himself defending the beautiful city to which he had dedicated his life. After a lifetime in academe I cannot say that I have encountered many scholar-heroes.

 

 

Bush Redux

Repeating a now ubiquitous Republican assertion, Jeb Bush recently claimed that President Obama was responsible for ISIS because he pulled American troops out of Iraq too quickly. This is nonsense for two reasons. First and more obvious, it was his brother President George Bush (or more correctly, the undead who manipulated him) who invaded Iraq for no compelling reason and eliminated a stable and secular regime that was holding Iraq together. Yes, Sadam Hussein was a brutal dictator, but when has that ever got in the way of American foreign policy? We supported him during his ineffective war against revolutionary Iran, and he was a Sunni, like all our hillbilly friends in the Gulf. Baghdad was one of the places where Saudi princes went to get a drink or a woman. And he was a priority target for al-Qaeda, second only to the Saudi royal family.

Saddam

Saddam

Jeb

Jeb

W

W

As everyone except Vice President Dick Cheney now knows, Saddam was absolutely no threat to the United States, and we entered what passes for a major war these days with no casus belli. We in effect waged a war of aggression and were forced to come up with some nonsense about Iraq violating the terms of the Gulf War armistice. Why we did this is not at all clear to me, but Bush’s neocon advisors seemed to have some new program for the Middle East. I expect the generals, the military contractors and the Israelis were all whispering in the President’s ear.

 

Incompetence prevailed during the course of the war, and the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, should have been prosecuted. Crushing Saddam’s military was efficiently done – we do have an excellent military – but everything else, especially in the postwar period, betrayed a criminal lack of planning and an unbelievable lack of understanding of Iraq. It did not take a towering intelligence to see that disbanding the Iraqi army and firing every single administrator, bureaucrat and teacher because they were members the Ba’ath Party would leave Iraq without its state infrastructure. Ignoring warnings, the administration supported as Prime Minister and our man in Iraq Nouri al-Maliki, who quickly emerged as a Shiite tyrant, disaffecting the Sunni minority and completely ruining the American-trained (and paid for) Iraqi army, whose best Sunni officers are now working for ISIS. Unwilling to fight for the oppressive government in Baghdad, the well-armed Sunni tribesmen stood aside as ISIS seized town after town in western Iraq.

"Screw the Sunnis."

“Screw the Sunnis.”

"I am Death."

“I am Death.”

"Known unknowns and unknown unknowns"

“Known unknowns and unknown unknowns”

Second, it was impossible to reach a Status of Forces Agreement with Baghdad. Iraqis in general wanted US forces out of their country, and the government resisted granting the US military and its contractors the extensive immunity from local prosecution desired by Washington. Consequently, if we stayed, we would be an occupying army, which some Iraqis were convinced was already the case. And a majority of Americans supported withdrawal, sick of this costly war that did not seem to be serving any national interests beyond transferring tax revenues to companies like Haliburton.

 

To be sure, Obama (though more likely his military and intelligence people) might have taken notice of the rise of ISIS sooner, but the prime reason for the appearance of ISIS was the power vacuum and incompetent “democratic” government created in the wake of America’s unjustified and illegal invasion of Iraq. And that was your brother’s administration, Jeb, not Barack Obama’s. The Syrian civil war played a role of course, but it was the regime change and disbanding of the Iraqi army that opened the door to the Caliphate of Doom. Had that ruthless bastard Sadam still been around, who knows what might have happened?

Some of the major beneficiaries of the Iraq War:

"Thanks for all the military equipment, infidel dogs."

“Thanks for all the military equipment, infidel dogs.”

"Hey, we made money."

“Hey, we made money.”

"Ready to kill!"

“Ready to kill!”

Candidate Bush should know all this of course. For all his statements about being “his own man,” 19 of his 21 foreign policy advisors previously worked for his brother and/or his father. This fun group includes some fairly unsavory characters, behind the scenes professionals who never seem to lack for a job no matter how much they screw up. At the top of the list is the infamous and disgusting Paul Wolfowitz, Bush II’s Deputy Secretary of Defense, who created an office in the Pentagon to push for an invasion of Iraq, deliberately delivering false information to the media and government and obscuring the skepticism of the intelligence community. Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley also ignored warnings from the CIA and FBI, allowing Bush to make false claims; he was subsequently rewarded with promotion to National Security Advisor. And how about Meghan O’Sullivan, perhaps the top advisor to Paul Bremer, the man now recognized for his utter incompetence as the Imperial Viceroy of Iraq.

"No Ba'athists, no army and if you don't like the constitution I wrote, you can shove it."

Bremer “No Ba’athists, no army and if you don’t like the constitution I wrote, you can shove it.”

"We are the world."

Wolfowitz “We are the world.”

"You can rely on me."

Hadley “You can rely on me.”

So, much of the team that brought us the Iraq war is presumably working on how to deal with ISIS. This should be good.

 

Incidentally, allow me to throw in a telling statistic that puts the whole War on Terror in perspective. Between 9/11 and now 74 Americans (exclusive of the military) have been killed by people identified as terrorists; in that same period 150,000 Americans have been murdered with firearms. I suppose one way to look at this is that the War on Terror is working.

The President Drones On

The long arm of Uncle Sam, his fingers tipped with death, has reached around the world to Pakistan again, this time killing two innocent hostages, the American Warren Weinstein and the Italian Giovanni Lo Porto.  President Obama took the novel step of declassifying and revealing the fatal mistake, and of course he took full responsibility for the deaths, which has always struck me as a relatively meaningless gesture.  In the announcement he continually referred to the victims as “Warren” and “Giovanni,” suggesting, I suppose, that he was close to these men or that the deaths were a personal loss.  Who knows?

President Obomber

President Obomber

The subsequent press conference with the aptly named Presidential Press Secretary, John Earnest, was the usual exercise in evasiveness, repetition and empty statements.  The secrecy is once again mind boggling.  He stated that he could not reveal any details about where and how the raid was carried out, which has me puzzled.  The terrorists can hardly fail to know where the strike took place, and one would think the how is pretty clear: they observed the target for days, determined there was a terrorist “signature” and hit the building with a missile.  Why the actual day cannot be revealed also strikes me as mysterious.  But then, I am not a “national security professional,” as Earnest continually called the spooks, who were dedicated patriots just doing their job, which for me conjures images of black uniforms and caps with skull and crossbones on them.  Somehow “targeted strike” does not sound as sinister as “assassination” or “murder.”

"I don't deal with hypotheticals...or truth."

“I don’t deal with hypotheticals…or truth.”

No one asked why if this strike and the resulting casualties can be revealed – at least revealed three months after the fact – why such details of other strikes cannot be made public.  A reporter did ask why, if it is our policy not to negotiate for hostages, did the government trade captives for captured soldier Robert Bergdahl, who was in fact a deserter.  The question was dodged, and the ever helpful Press Secretary explained once again why we do not deal with terrorists.  I am not impressed by the major reason – this would only encourage them to take more hostages – inasmuch as they are going to seize any westerner they can get their hands on anyway.  Israel negotiates with terrorists; who would gainsay them in this business?

Earnest also reminded us that the he (along with most politicians) does not deal in “hypotheticals,” which has become the standard reply to questions regarding policy.  But a comprehensive policy is based on the consideration of “what if’s,” and we are essentially being told that we are not to know the full implications of a government policy, especially when it concerns national security and blowing up people half way around the world.  It might be argued that we do not want our enemies to know what our reaction will be if x happens, but this leaves the citizenry in the dark regarding exactly what our policies are in very critical areas of war and peace.

Also killed in January were two al-Qaeda operatives, Ahmed Farouq in this strike and Adam Gadahny in another, both of them US citizens, raising again the uncomfortable issue of what business the government has assassinating Americans.  Well, Obama has informed us that Attorney General Eric Holder, his man of course, has assured him that it is Constitutionally permissible to zap these jerks, the contrary position of many legal scholars notwithstanding.  Yes, they are entitled to a trial, but if they cannot be captured wadda ya gonna do?  And trying them in absentia will not work because time is always of the essence.  Do you want efficiency or justice with these “imminent threats” to Americans?  National security, always defined by the government, often requires sacrifice, frequently, as in this case, of Constitutional rights.  Besides, the President has assured us Congress has oversight of these operations, which recent history regarding the NSA suggests is a not even close to true, and in any case, does the involvement of Congress make anyone feel comfortable?

"Of course it is all perfectly legal."

“Of course it is all perfectly legal.”

Imminent threat?  Most people would agree that imminent meant someone was pointing a gun at you or walking towards a shopping mall with an assault rifle and suicide vest or massing troops on your borders.  But as with the Red Queen, for the government words mean exactly what it wants them to mean.  Thus, a guy in Waziristan who might be plotting an attack against the US is an imminent threat, regardless of how difficult it will be for him and his comrades to pull it off.  An American citizen in Somalia recruiting new fighters for al-Qaeda is an imminent threat requiring action, just as the possibility that Iran might acquire a nuclear weapon, regardless of whether they would ever be stupid enough to try to use it, is an imminent threat, justifying a first strike.  Traditional understandings of international law among civilized nations is disappearing, at least for the US and Israel.

The deaths of the hostages was the result of a “signature” strike, that is, there was no intelligence that a valuable target was at that locale but rather the patterns of movement in and out of and around the locale suggested a group of terrorists.  Now, this is a good one.  So, if a group of men in one of these wild areas regularly gathered to play cards and some brought coolers with whatever it is Muslims drink, they would sooner or later be blown up.  What it boils down to is that any male of military age is considered a terrorist.

Incidentally, so far as named targets are concerned, what precious little evidence that can be gleaned about the drone program indicates that it takes many strikes to get the designated terrorist.  That means far more chance and perhaps the certainty that innocents will also be killed, and while it is extremely difficult to come up with any sort of precise estimates given the veil of secrecy, it is very clear Bomber Obama is vastly underestimating the number of civilian casualties.  Ayman Zawahiri is still alive after two attempts; 76 children and 29 adults are not.  Killing Qari Hussain, whom I suspect very few people have ever heard of, cost the lives of 128 people.  The human rights group Reprieve estimates that as of last November attempts to assassinate 41 men resulted in the deaths of 1147 individuals, while strikes on some two dozen named terrorists in Pakistan ended up killing 874 people.  The Council on Foreign Relations has concluded that 500 strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan have killed 3674 unfortunates.

Touched by the hand of Sam

Touched by the hand of Sam

On a related note of governmental duplicity, America agreed that no operations involving armed drones would take place on Germany territory, inasmuch as that would violate German law and the Status of Forces agreement.  Now, German counterintelligence (together with the American patriot Edward Snowdon) has produced classified American documents demonstrating that the giant American air base at Ramstein (the largest foreign American military base) is in fact the hub for all attack drone activity in the world.  Once more the US government has blatantly lied to and abused the hospitality of a close ally.  The Merkel government has suspected this but despite the complete lack of American response to the NSA spying revelations has refused to take any action for fear of further injuring relations with the bully across the Atlantic.  One hopes that domestic political pressure will now force her hand and lead to charges of war crimes against American military and intelligence personnel.

Drone Central at Ramstein

Drone Central at Ramstein

But the President has assured us that the drone program is critical to the security of the country and safety of the American people, and Presidents never lie, right?  Meanwhile, we are further tarnishing our image around the globe, and every civilian casualty mean more recruits for the terrorist organizations.  And Obama ticks names off kill lists supplied by the CIA, reminiscent of Stalin going through lists of those to be shot by the NKVD.

OK, that’s stretching it beyond the breaking point, but the fact is we seem less and less to be the good guys.

The old symbol of  America

The old symbol of
America

The new symbol of America

The new symbol of America

 

Club Nuke: Iranians Need Not Apply

The United States and the other major world powers now have, at least in principle, a nuclear deal with Iran, but like President Woodrow Wilson’s dream, the League of Nations, America may end not being a party to the agreement because of a Congress full of self-interested, partisan, ignorant and bought members.  And the intense lobbying of that warmongering turd in Tel Aviv.

Details of the agreement are in short supply because of the veil of secrecy that seems to have settled over everything Washington does (get ready for the corporate give-away of the Pacific and Atlantic free trade agreements), but Iran will apparently back off from producing enriched uranium sufficient for a bomb and allow inspection of the entire nuclear supply chain.  In return the sanctions will be lifted, but only gradually rather than immediately as Teheran had desired (still being discussed).  One of the chief negotiators, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, was satisfied that the deal would allow the world adequate time to catch the Iranians cheating, and I am far more inclined to believe an MIT physicist than any politician.

their physicist

their physicist

our physicist

our physicist

Can Iran be trusted?  Of course not, no more than any other government, including that of the US.  But what else is there?  Do nothing, increase the sanctions or go to war with Iran, which may happen if we do nothing, inasmuch as Israel may attack the Iranians anyway, expecting the US to help.

Enhancing the sanctions seems pointless.  The current regime of sanctions is seriously hurting the Iranian economy and thus the Iranian people, but not the nuclear program.  During the period the sanctions have been in effect the nuclear development has not just continued but expanded.  Iran is able to earn enough money selling oil to cover the relatively minor cost of the program, and it would be very difficult to shut off the income completely.  Further, many countries, including Russia and China, are anxious to do business with Iran, and holding the sanctions coalition together will become very difficult.  And without these powers the effectiveness of the sanctions will evaporate.

Military action would be a costly disaster.  Israel made it look easy by bombing reactors in Iraq and Syria, but Iran would be vastly different.  Senator Tom Cotton, seemingly a complete idiot, claims it would be like President Clinton’s bombing of Iraqi weapons facilities in 1998 and only take several days.  He is another tedious example of the morons we are electing.  The Iranian installations are scattered over a country that is four times the size of Iraq, and many are deep underground.  Iran has a sophisticated air defense system that would first have to be neutralized, and many of the facilities would have to be bombed multiple times.  Meanwhile, the Iranians would be able to cause havoc with shipping in the Gulf, expanding the scope of the war and causing a crisis in the world energy markets.  And the history of the twentieth century has demonstrated that one of the best ways to increase popular support for a regime is to bomb the country, something the Republican Party is apparently unaware of.

There is of course absolutely no discussion of what would be a legal casus belli for assaulting Iran, a sad sign of the time.  Apart from seizing our embassy in 1979, Iran has not attacked the US or supported anyone who has attacked the US.  On the contrary, we helped overthrow their legitimately elected government in 1953, gave serious economic and military support to Saddam Hussein’s unprovoked (and losing) 1980-1988 war against them and actually shot down one of their civilian airliners in 1988 (for which Washington refused to apologize).  Who the hell is the threat here?

former Middle Eastern friend

former Middle Eastern friend

Middle Eastern friend

Middle Eastern friend

Middle Eastern friend

Middle Eastern friend

The US position is that Iran threatens the stability of the Middle East and our interests therein.  Forgotten of course is that the US engaged in a massive and completely unjustified invasion of Iraq that has resulted in the most serious instability in the region since the First World War.  Or that our Gulf allies, especially the medieval and oppressive kingdom of Saudi Arabia, have supported the international Arab terrorism that led to 9/11 and other attacks on America.  Granted, the US has economic (and Israeli) interests in the Middle East, but the notion that because Iran might be a threat to those interests, we are justified in attacking her is a negation of the whole idea of the bellum iustum.  In 1941 Japan felt that America was a threat to her interests in the eastern Pacific and consequently bombed Pearl Harbor.  I suppose the difference is that the Japanese were bad guys for wanting to seize oil assets, while we are good guys because we want to bring peace and democracy to the world while securing our oil supplies.  Well, in the thirties and forties the Japanese were bad guys, but I wonder now if we are indeed still the good guys we have traditionally been seen as.  I suspect the people living under the kings and dictators we have supported do not see it that way.

The hypocrisy in all of this is staggering.  As the people who actually invented nuclear weapons and who continue to upgrade thousands of warheads, who are we to tell someone else they cannot have them?  That we are immensely powerful is the only reason I can come up with; “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must,” says Thucydides.  And besides Pakistan, which is the only state in the region that possesses nuclear weapons?  Why, Israel, which has not been compelled to even admit their existence.  Nor have they been asked to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, while their neighbors have been constantly cajoled and even threatened by Washington.  In all the discussion over Iran’s nuclear program I have yet to hear a single mainstream journalist bring up the fact of Israel’s arsenal.

Israel's already got 'em

Israel’s already got ’em

Iran tries to make nukes

Iran tries to make nukes

Because they are the good guys, like us.  These are the good guys who have been violating basic international law for decades, who are colonizing territory conquered from others, who imprison children for throwing stones and who periodically engage in military action that is little more than a slaughter of innocents.  This is the shinning democracy that treats its Arab citizens in a way that would make Jim Crow proud and some of whose ministers periodically publically call for expelling them.  These are the good allies who lie to us, spy on us, insult us and blatantly interfere in our politics.  These are the good friends who assassinate anyone they deem threatening, who detain and even torture Palestinian-Americans and who in 1967 (while we were materially supporting them in the Six Day War) deliberately attacked the USS Liberty in international waters, killing 34 American sailors and wounding another 171.  Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary their official policy (and ours) is still that it was an “accident.”

Now, the present government of Iran is hardly attractive, but when has Washington had any problem dealing with unattractive governments, like that of Iran’s next door neighbor to the west?  As mentioned, they have plenty of reason to be annoyed with America, and when exactly have they injured us, beyond the embarrassment of having our embassy staff being held hostage?  They support terrorism, but those groups, Hamas and Hezbollah, have never threatened the US and are only interested in local affairs, to wit, Israel and Lebanon.  In fact, Hezbollah was born in response to Israel’s rather indiscriminate invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and Hamas was actually created by Israeli security services in order to undermine Fatah and is thoroughly radicalized by Israel’s inhumane treatment of Gaza.  Yes, Israel was created in an environment where all her neighbors despised her (with some good reason), but she has only herself to blame that almost 70 years later they still do.

Not that they can do much about it beyond shooting ineffective rockets into the Light Unto the Nations.  With American support Israel has by far the strongest and most dangerous military in the Middle East and possesses hundreds of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.  The constant wailing by Netanyahu (and his Congressional ass-kissing friends) about the threat to Israel’s existence rings a bit hollow.  (Incidentally, ill-educated politicians and journalists, this is not what the adjective “existential” means.)  Yes, Teheran is constantly talking about driving Israel into the sea, but this has become a meaningless mantra repeated by Israel’s enemies and certainly has a lot to do with the character of the Iranian regime.  And suppose Iran had a deliverable nuclear weapon?  While the mullahs and the supreme leader are religious whackos, they are manifestly not stupid and must understand that even attempting to toss a nuke in Israel’s direction would result in national suicide.  Of course, the Saudis and their Sunni friends would be overjoyed to see Iran turned into a vast plain of glass.

Nobody wishes to see a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, but it has already begun: Israel has nuclear weapons.  I expect a major motivation for an Iranian bomb is national pride, but it might just also be that they are also nervous.  They were pushed around before and during World War Two by oil companies and the Allies and then had their government overthrown in 1953 by the US and Britain, allowing the Shah to emerge as a brutal dictator supported by the West.  The US then diplomatically and materially supported Saddam during the Iran-Iraq War, and in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan America now has Iran almost literally surrounded by bases.  And there is the increasingly bellicose Israel, which has always had unqualified American support.  The Iranian desire for nuclear weapons might actually have something to do with fear and a history of being of being bullied.

 We've got those suckers covered

We’ve got those suckers covered

I find the Shia, which is centered in Iran, to be the more attractive part of Islam, the part that actually enjoys a rich cultural heritage from its long association with Persia.  The Sunnis appear to represent little more than ancient Arab culture, which dovetails with the values of the modern world as well as the medieval Sunni kingdoms in the Gulf, which is to say, very little.  Despite their retro-theocracy the Iranians, at least in the urban areas, are very secular and interested in the west, and while their hostility towards the Taliban and ISIS certainly has a large sectarian component, the fact is these are interests shared by the US.  Keep in mind that the stink of Wahhabism and Al-Qaeda and terror directed towards America emerged from Saudi Arabia.  If we could cooperate with the USSR under Stalin, I see no reason why we cannot cooperate with Iran.

Well, there is a reason: Israel.  Clearly, Netanyahu and his paladins are not interested in defusing the Iranian situation through diplomacy, since it is a fine distraction from the mounting domestic problems in Israel, and Iranian support for Hamas is an excellent cover for the outrageous treatment of Gaza.  Israel is well on its way to becoming an apartheid state, a development that hardly required Netanyahu’s blatant declaration against a two state solution to be recognized.  Yet none of this will deter Congress, especially the Republicans, from supporting him, apparently because of a widespread belief in some powerful Jewish financial cabal that will doom their reelection chances should they cross the Israeli Reich.  Or they are simply stupid, about which we will be reminded when the Republican Presidential Primary Circus comes to town.  Incidentally, so strong is the pro-Israel grip that Webster’s now offers as a second definition of “anti-Semitism” any criticism of the state of Israel.  If that is the case, then I have met two anti-Semites with numbers tattooed on their forearms.

Here is a simple proposal: Iran gives up her nuclear weapons program and Israel gives up hers.  Sure.

 

 

 

 

Je Suis Charlie (Mais Non Est Obama)

 

What is wrong with Barack Obama?  On January 11 1.6 million people, including more than forty presidents and prime ministers, gathered in the Place de la République in Paris for a show of solidarity against Islamic terrorism.  But unless you recognized the face of the American ambassador in Paris you would search in vain for a representative of the United States among the heads of state marching with linked arms.  The American Attorney General happened to be in France, but did not attend the rally.

Surely the American President, the leader of the global anti-terror war, had no business more important (a fund raiser?) than showing his face in Paris.  The White House then added another insult by bringing up concerns about the President’s safety (though the Secret Service was never consulted), suggesting that the French security forces are inept, an opinion apparently not shared by the leaders who did show up.  Since the President may presumably ignore the concerns of his advisors, Obama ends up looking a bit like a coward or an aloof jerk, especially since the very first national leader to hurry to the US after 9/11 was Jacques Chirac, the President of France.

Je suis Barack

Je suis Barack

One leader who did show up, apparently against the wishes of the French President, Francois Hollande, was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, prompting Hollande to immediately invite Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority.  Netanyahu proceeded to make a fool of himself, waving to the crowd, unlike the others in the somber march, and inviting French Jews to emigrate to Israel, where they would be safe, a completely outrageous statement for a guest of the French to make.  Of course, the presence of people like Vladimir Putin and the representative of Saudia Arabia was a study in hypocrisy as they memorialized the Charlie Hebdo journalists, all of whom would be in prison in their countries.

Slaughtering innocents, especially children, is certainly barbaric, but the assault on the writers and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo was a blow against what I believe to be the most important of our rights, that of free expression.  If one cannot say what one pleases, short of creating an immediate physical danger, all other political freedoms become meaningless.  Limiting free speech because someone, be it an individual or an entire group of people, may be offended is tantamount to eliminating free speech.  Freedom of expression comes with a sometimes onerous responsibility: tolerating the offensive or inane speech of others.  “Hate” speech and certainly stupid speech are unfortunately facets of free speech.

Islamic extremism, at least when it targets what it considers offensive expression, might be considered a sort of political correctness gone wild.  Instead of facing censure or job loss because of criticism of some group, you now face death threats and violence.  There are well meaning-people who believe that if we do not insult these individuals by criticizing or lampooning their bizarre and brutal interpretation of Islam, they will not be moved to such barbarous behavior, a ludicrous idea.  And there are far less well-meaning people (see for example the official Turkish press), who suggest this sort of violence is happening because of excessive free speech, implying that the victims at Charlie Hebdo deserved what they got.  Well, all governments (and university administrations) are uncomfortable to some degree with real free speech, and it is a never ending struggle to secure our right to say what we will.

Free speech aside, these jihadi scum are reminiscent of a violent group that has actually contributed a common noun to the English language – the Thuggees or Thugs.  The Thugs were a criminal/religious association plaguing India since at least the fourteenth century, until they were virtually eliminated by the British in the nineteenth.  The Thugs originally traced their roots back to seven Muslim tribes, but their theology was Hindu during their reign of terror.  They were essentially a criminal underclass, specializing in strangling and robbing travelers, but they believed themselves (Muslims notwithstanding) to be the children of the violent goddess Kali, consort of Shiva, thus providing a kind of religious justification for their murderous activities.  The Thugs were at root thieves, but they inevitably murdered their victims, making them something more than just another robber band.  Estimates vary wildly, but the Thugs may have killed as many as two million people during their centuries of terror.

Kali, unofficial deity of Isis

Kali, unofficial deity of Isis

Thugs

Thugs

And what to do about the wave of Muslim fanaticism that is rolling around the planet?  I wish I knew.  These deluded jihadists are like the Terminator: they can’t be reasoned with, they can’t be bought off and they can’t be intimidated.  The British were able to turn many Thugs by sparing them the death penalty, but how can one do this with someone who believes that getting blown up is a good thing?

Killing them is the only immediate answer, but without an effective army actually engaging ISIS in Syria and Iraq this will be a long and difficult process.  Cutting off the supply of new recruits means improving living conditions, including education, for young Muslim men, a tough enough challenge in Europe, especially France, where there is a rising tide of Islamaphobia, and perhaps impossible in the Middle East.  Of course, droning innocents in Pakistan and Yemen is not helping the cause, although the ISIS fanatics would likely still be trying to build their caliphate even if the West had no history of colonialism in the Middle East and no war on terror.

Perhaps western leaders need to begin thinking outside the box.  Declare that Syria is a province of the Israeli empire and let them take care of the situation.  Or make it clear to the jihadists that if captured they will be put in stocks and pelted with pork and forced to listen to historians and theologians explaining Islam to them.  Or send in attorneys and administrators to help ISIS construct a true bureaucratic state, in the wake of which they will be unable to get anything done.  Just saying. enhanced-30843-1420643123-9[1]enhanced-15505-1420644639-7[1]