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Franklin C. Spinney

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Sleepwalking into a New Cold War, Pentagon Style

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The Pentagon’s five year plan has been planted (or in Pentagon-speak, “front loaded”) with the seed money for a top-to-bottom modernization of our nuclear forces — a new bomber, new inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBM) (even though the Minutemen III has just been completely modernized and is essentially a new missile), new nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBM), upgraded (read “new”) submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM), a new cruise missile, and big upgrade (read “new”) to the B-61 dial-a-yield nuclear bomb (including precision guidance which implies going back to the looney tit-for-tat nuclear war-fighting doctrines of late 1970s), a new nuclear-hardened satellite based command and control system to manage all these goodies in a nuclear war, even more money for the strategic defense initiative (SDI) (the shield to protect the aforementioned swords), and a rebuilding of the nuclear lab infrastructure.
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Why Are Defense Policy Wonks So Ineffectual?

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Today, America’s foreign policy is a shambles. Its primary features are (1) a perpetual war on terror, and (2) the seemingly inevitable march into a new and unnecessary cold war against Russia and China. At the same time, President Obama is leaving his successor with a budget plan containing a front loaded and political engineered* procurement bow wave that guarantees steeply rising defense expenditures well into the next decade and possibly beyond. Such long term increases in the defense budget can only be justified by a new cold war. Yet the United States now spends far more on the military than any other country. Add in the expenditures of our allies, and the spending advantage over any conceivable combination of adversaries becomes overwhelming. Nevertheless, US citizens are more fearful than they were during the Cold War, and politicians and the yellow journalism of the mainstream media are hyping those fears to a greater extent than they did during the Cold War.

What is going on? 

Most pundits and policy makers who debate this dismal state of affairs subscribe to the view that fixing foreign policy is the first step toward getting control of the Pentagon and ultimately reducing defense budgets.
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The Pentagon Gong Show

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It should be clear that the Global War on Terror (GWOT) launched by George W. Bush and perpetuated by Barack Obama is a bust. It is now the longest war in US history; it is now the second most expensive war in US history; and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. 

Yet despite the GWOT’s astronomical cost, forces deployed and combat tempos are minuscule when compared the those of the far lower cost Viet Nam War. Nevertheless, the top uniformed and civilian officials in the Pentagon are whining to Congress that these tepid tempos have created a looming readiness crisis. They assert the relatively small cutbacks in the future growth implied by the budget caps of Budget Control Act of 2011 to what is by far the largest defense budget in the world is now the “gravest strategic danger” facing the United States!

A logical person, living in a sane world, would think that the GWOT, its high cost, its clearly broken nature, and the huge size of the defense budget would be major issues in the 2016 Presidential election. But the presidential candidates and the mainstream media, like the Pentagon, are silent on this surreal travesty. Indeed, the pathologies of the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex (MICC) are as much off limits in contemporary political discourse as is foul language is at holy communion. 
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The Kurdish Genie - A Case of Complexity Papered Over by Arrogance and Ignorance

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One of the unintended consequences of the US invasions of Iraq in 1991 and 2003 -- and their aftermaths -- has been the unleashing of the Kurdish nationalist genie in the Middle East. Today, a de-facto Kurdish statelet exists in northeast Iraq, one is emerging in northern Syria, and, after a period of attempted reconciliation, the Kurdish-Turkish violence is metastasizing again throughout Turkey. Only the Kurdish region in northwestern Iran is quiet.

The Kurdish genie has its origin in the breakup of the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire, in the self-referencing ideas for self-determination in President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, and in the failure (see pgs. 5 & 6) of the Versailles Peace Conference (1919) to appreciate Kurdish national aspirations. The Versailles Conference made a mockery of Wilson’s ideas, particularly in the Middle East. In truth, the question of an independent Kurdish nation has been bottled up since the (1) Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916) proposed to carve up the Ottoman Empire in the interest of the European colonial powers, (2) Treaty of Sèvres (1920) tried to effect that division, and (3) the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) undid the proposed partition of Anatolia by establishing the borders of modern Turkey. 

Together, these event buried Kurdish national aspirations in southeast Turkey by incorporating that part of Kurdistan into the Turkish Republic and the League of Nations’ mandates of Syria and Iraq. The modern multi-ethnic states of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, as well as Jordan, and Israel emerged from the confused detritus of the interaction of Wilson’s naive idealism [1] with the cynical machinations of the European colonial powers.
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Reinventing Guns and Butter Politics for the 21st Century

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Center of American Progress (CAP) is a prominent Democratic "think tank" in the Hall of Mirrors that is Versailles on the Potomac. The CAP brands itself by saying it is "dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through progressive ideas and action." The Center also claims it presents a liberal viewpoint on economic issues. Its blog, inaptly named “Think Progress," is widely read among avant-garde "progressives." 

The blog and the CAP itself are quite useless for people trying to understand the real issues at stake for what remains of the old Democratic coalition put together by FDR and destroyed by Richard Nixon. That is because the CAP is really a political front for the progressive apparatchiks in the emerging Clinton neoliberal oligarchy. The CAP’s founder John Podesta, a long time Clinton aide, is managing Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president. The current CAP president, Neera Tanden, is a long time Clinton confidant and advisor. 

The independent investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald just exposed  the mentality of the people who are running the CAP. That mentality is made evident by their own words, expressed in emails leaked by someone inside of the CAP to Greenwald. The emails describe the CAP’s obsequious pandering to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and AIPAC. This is to be expected, of course; and the pandering is the primary focus of Greenwald’s report. That said, the cynical distancing of CAP and Ms. Clinton from a sitting Democratic President is worse than even the most jaded readers might expect. 
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US Foreign Policy: Into the Heart of Darkness

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The United States is careening toward an unnecessary new cold war with Russia.  Cold War II may be even more dangerous than the first Cold War, because the constitutional checks and balances and the attention span of the people regulating the US government’s behavior have broken down. While Ukraine is now at the center of this madness, the neocon-driven march to folly has roots reaching well beyond the Ukraine. 

At the same time the United States is rushing to an unnecessary and unwarranted confrontation with Russia, it is engaged in perpetual war on terror that is creating enemies in the Islamic world faster than we can kill them. Moreover, the grand-strategic focus of the war on terror has degenerated into a swamp of contradictions. About the only outcome that is clear in the war on terror is that defense contractors will be the winners.  And then, there is the looming pivot to a confrontation with China. 

In short, the warmongering politicians of American Empire, like those of the Roman Empire, have succumbed to the delusion of their own invincibility and are driving the United States into the age-old cul-de-sac of military overextension. 

Yet at the same time the country is careening to disaster, the American people are tuning out on their government and its actions.
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The Disastrous Myth of Airpower Victory

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President Obama’s strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS depends crucially on precision bombing by drones and airplanes. The heavy lifting on the ground is supposed to be accomplished by our "allies" in Iraq and the Syrian opposition, but as any reader of the news knows, these allies are, to put it charitably, unreliable and prone to panic and/or treachery. So, despite Obama’s rhetoric, our new war against ISIS will be an air power war.

The key ideas in Obama's bombing strategy will be the identification and killing of ISIS leadership targets and the disruption/destruction of coherent ISIS ground operations with precision weapons. That target identification task is likely to be done by small numbers of US forces working with our supposed allies. This plan is a prescription for disaster.

The seductive idea of victory through airpower alone is not a new one, and Obama has fallen for a modern improv of an old score — no doubt, in part, for domestic political reasons. The background music was conceived and advocated in the 1930s by a small group of officers in the Army Air Corps based in the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, near Montgomery, Alabama.
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How to Evolve an Exit Strategy From America’s Foreign Policy Shambles — The Polk Report

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In a nutshell, recent events in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, and Ukraine show there is no grand-strategic focus to America’s increasingly militarized foreign policy. A German officer in the old imperial army might say, ''kein Schwerpunkt''!

What we call foreign policy and grand strategy in the 21st Century — i.e., that ‘you are either with us or with the terrorists’* — has devolved into a self-righteous welter of bluster, threats, arms transfers, puny demonstrations (e.g., deployments of two or three B-2s), proxy wars, and bombing (especially, targeted liquidations with drones from a safe distance instead of a bullet in the back of the head), all aimed ad hoc in reaction to any crisis du jour. The pattern is more like a giant whack-a-mole game than a sensible grand strategy aimed at ending conflicts on favorable terms, while paying due regard to strengthening our bonds at home and with our allies, undermining the cohesion of our adversaries, and coping efficiently with the internal constraints limiting our actions.

Consider, please, the following: Last month President Obama announced we would extend our stay in Afghanistan — a war we have clearly lost — until the end of 2016. Last week, Mr. Obama, after months of procrastination, said he was considering sending weapons to the Syrian Sunni insurgents fighting President Assad. The most effective of these insurgents are the ISIS Jihadis who are fighting and defeating, as well as stealing or buying weapons from the other insurgents.
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What is the Real Price of Starting Another Cold War?

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In the late 1980s, the leaders of the west promised Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev that they would not expand eastward if the Soviet Union pulled out of Eastern Europe and ended the Cold War. That promise was not kept. A triumphal West stuck it to the Soviet Union’s greatly weakened Russian successor, by incorporating the former Warsaw Pact countries into NATO and the EU. But that was not enough to sate the lust of the neo-liberal

triumphalists in search of a new imperium. Their next move tried to incorporate the Caucasus country of Georgia — a country more a part of Central Asia than of Europe — into the West’s sphere of influence. That turned out to be a bridge too far; the Russians intervened militarily to put a stop to the lunacy.

But events in the Ukraine suggest that stop may have been viewed as a temporary speed bump on the pathway to rolling back Russia’s geography to the years of Ivan the Terrible.

Ukraine may be descending into chaos, and some triumphalists in the west are again tempted to meddle and fan the fires of chaos and revolution, perhaps with a near-term aim of a partitioning the Ukraine along its historic Orthodox-Catholic fault line. Seaumas Milne describes the chaotic state of play in Ukraine in this commentary in the Guardian.
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