Counter-Terrorism Beyond Platitudes | commentary

“Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have embraced a shallow, platitudinous approach to counter-terrorism and anti-insurgency warfare.”

Max Boot effectively explains the flawed analogy (resulting from a lack of historical perspective) behind the simplistic approach to counter-terrorism espoused by Trump, Cruz, and many Americans. Their understanding of war is based on the crushing defeats inflicted on the Axis powers during WWII.

But as Boot points out, “The situation with the War on Terror today is very different. We are fighting insurgencies, not nation-states, even if some of the insurgents (the Taliban before 9/11, ISIS today) have taken on many of the attributes of nation-states. This is an unconventional conflict in which our enemies seldom wear uniforms or mass in the open. They prefer to hide among a civilian population and to strike with stealth and surprise, usually against civilian, not military, targets. As I argued in my book Invisible Armies, this is an ancient form of warfare that requires a different response from conventional conflicts. Using maximal force against terrorists and guerrillas can backfire, more often than not, by killing innocent civilians and thereby driving their friends and relatives into the insurgent camp.”

Read the entire article here: Counter-Terrorism Beyond Platitudes | commentary

The ‘war on terror’ isn’t working – LA Times

Andrew Bacevich’s article at the Los Angeles Times is brief but smart. In contrast to the dominant voices calling for more bombing and even the use of torture, he proposes something different. His critique is historically informed and echoes what many scholars, including myself, have been advocating for a long time.

“What Americans refer to as terrorism is more accurately this: a violent outgrowth of chronic political dysfunction and economic underdevelopment affecting large parts of the Islamic world, exacerbated by deep-seated  sectarian divisions and the pernicious legacy of European colonialism and further complicated by the presence of Israel, all together finding expression in antipathy toward the West and especially the United States. For the “war on terror” to succeed, it will have to remedy the conditions giving rise to that antipathy in the first place.” Exactly!

Read the entire article here: The ‘war on terror’ isn’t working – LA Times

History News Network | Quicksand: Or How and Why the U.S. Created its Very Own Middle Eastern Quagmire

Another perceptive analysis of our current situation: “Americans are scared and whenever the next terrorist act occurs, temperatures will soar, and as our past bears out, bad things will surely happen as ambitious  politicians, goaded by the mass media, rush to avenge the criminals, guilty or not. Meanwhile, the morally and politically myopic men and women who  entrapped us in a no-win Greater Middle Eastern hornet’s nest will continue advising our leaders how to beat ISIS and finally win our never-ending wars.”

Source: History News Network | Quicksand: Or How and Why the U.S. Created its Very Own Middle Eastern Quagmire

“The Refugees & the New War by Michael Ignatieff “| The New York Review of Books

Another credible voice making the case against giving ISIS what it wants: “Strategists will tell you that it is a mistake to fight the battle your enemies want you to fight. You should impose your strategy on them, not let them impose theirs on you. These lessons apply to the struggle with the leaders of ISIS. We have applied pressure upon them in Syria; they have replied with atrocious attacks in Ankara, Beirut, and now Paris. They are trying to provoke an apocalyptic confrontation with the Crusader infidels. We should deny them this opportunity.”

Source: The Refugees & the New War by Michael Ignatieff | The New York Review of Books

“Kissinger, the Bombardier” | History News Network

Greg Grandin reviews the history of Kissinger’s legacy of endless war and diplomacy via bombs. Despite the clear failure of this strategy, there is no sign that we will abandon it. When will we learn?

Grandin concludes:  “Here, then, is a perfect expression of American militarism’s unbroken circle. Kissinger invokes today’s endless, open-ended wars to justify his diplomacy by air power in Cambodia and elsewhere nearly half a century ago. But what he did then created the conditions for today’s endless wars, both those started by Bush’s neocons and those waged by Obama’s war-fighting liberals like Samantha Power. So it goes in Washington.”

Read the entire piece here: History News Network | Kissinger, the Bombardier

Kissenger's shadow

History News Network | These Are the Hard Steps that Must Be Taken to Resolve the Syrian Mess

“Russia and Iran are deeply embedded in Syria; they cannot be dislodged and will always remain a player in shaping Syria’s future. The US has little choice but to accept this simple reality.” As much as I hate the idea, I think that Alon Ben-Meir is right. Given the situation, our only option if we want to stop the conflict in Syria and defeat ISIS is to work with Russia and Iran (both of which have substantial interests in the region). What’s the alternative?

Read an overview of Ben-Meir’s solution here: History News Network | These Are the Hard Steps that Must Be Taken to Resolve the Syrian Mess

“Barack Obama, Whatever His Faults, Shouldn’t Be Criticized for Showing Empathy toward Iran” |History News Network

Walter G. Moss challenges those who criticize the President for showing empathy toward Iran. “Rather than empathy clouding the president’s judgment, as Herf maintains, it is (as I have argued elsewhere) an important characteristic of political wisdom. Contrary to much of our macho political rhetoric, it is not a sign of weakness. It does not prevent a realistic assessment of the “enemy,” but can enhance it. And most importantly, the diplomacy it forwards can help prevent, as the president insists in his American University speech, “the drumbeat of war.”

Republicans Don’t Understand the Lessons of the Iraq War – The Atlantic

“Having misunderstood the Iraq War, U.S. Republicans are taking a dangerously hawkish turn on foreign policy.”


In The Atlantic Peter Beinart debunks the surge myth and its contribution to one of the long-standing problems with our foreign policy:  “The problem with the legend of the surge is that it reproduces the very hubris that led America into Iraq in the first place.”

Read the entire article here:  Republicans Don’t Understand the Lessons of the Iraq War – The Atlantic

“Toward a National Strategy to Cope With a New World: Part 2” | History News Network

After listening to so much bluster (and idiocy) from The Donald on how he would solve the ISIS problem, it was really refreshing to read William R. Polk’s second essay on foreign policy. The essay is long, but I think well worth reading. His analysis reflects his experience and knowledge of history and U.S. foreign policy.
What most people miss in their deliberations on how the US should act in the world is any consideration for how other peoples see us and our actions. For a long time I have thought that one of the major flaws in our Realpoltik foreign policy has been its shortsightedness. We have been stoking hatred and desires for revenge for a long time and we’re paying the price for it now. In the short-term, Realpoltik may have served us, but in the long-term it has made us less safe. This strategy has also undermined our moral standing in the world, and exposed us as hypocrites. We have failed to live up to our own principles! I could go on, but I think Polk did an excellent job laying out some of my own grievances. I hope you read the entire essay, but if not I have put a few excerpts below that will hopefully provoke your interest, or at least provide food for thought.

“The “pacification” that counterinsurgency advocates claim is precisely what did not happen; rather anger intensified and desire for revenge grew.   Such activities are  not only self-defeating but also are self-propagating: strikes breed revenge which justify further strikes.  War becomes unending.”

“As I pointed out in the previous essay, Americans have carried out hundreds of military actions in other countries over the course of our history and in just the last 25 years have engaged in an average of six a year.[15] To Americans, such statistics mean something different from what they mean to others.  Leave aside such issues as legality, nationalism and purpose and consider only war itself.  The last time Americans personally suffered its reality – the destruction, the hunger, the draining fear – was the Civil War in the 1860s.     So when we read that we were complicit in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan in the deaths of hundreds of thousands,  uncounted injured and the “stunting” of a whole generation of children, they are just statistics.  We cannot emotionally relate to them.  Many other peoples, of course, do relate to them. For some, the memories are fresh, intimate and painful.”

“Since they assumed and hoped that we would live in a republic where the opinion of citizens has some ability to control government decision making,[92] they believed, that to have a chance to combine liberty and responsibility, citizens needed to be educated.  Enhancing the intellectual quality of our citizenry thus became essential in securing of “\’The Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.’”

“In conclusion, we must come to terms with the reality that we live in a multicultural, multinational world.  Our assertion of uniqueness, of unipower domination and of military power has been enormously expensive and has created a world reaction against us; in the period ahead it will become unsustainable and is likely to lead precisely to what we should not want to happen — armed conflict.  Moderation, peace-seeking and open-mindedness  need to become our national mottos.”

History News Network | Toward a National Strategy to Cope With a New World: Part 2.

US and World