Monday, February 28, 2011

The Latest Farewell to Fighting Wars in Asia

“Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,' as General [Douglas] MacArthur so delicately put it.”

There’s a quote for the history books, broadcast last week at the US Military Academy at West Point by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is retiring this year. It was as blunt a reassessment of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as MacArthur’s scathing warning to steer clear of fighting in Vietnam in the wake of the war in Korea that ended his four-star military career.

As the Christian Science Monitor’s Brad Knickerbocker reported, “Gates’s message was clear: The US military services, as well as the elected and appointed civilians who send them to war, need better ways of foreseeing and preparing for national security threats.” Future responses need to avoid the costly deployments of armies to wage protracted battles in far-flung corners of the world, the Pentagon chief added.

“And I must tell you, when it comes to predicting the nature and location of our next military engagements, since Vietnam, our record has been perfect,” Gates told the West Point cadets. “We have never once gotten it right, from the Mayaguez to Grenada, Panama, Somalia, the Balkans, Haiti, Kuwait, Iraq, and more – we had no idea a year before any of these missions that we would be so engaged.”

Expanding limited military missions, Gates emphasized, into nearly decade-long wars turned out to be the bloody mire that MacArthur warned against. “The odds of repeating another Afghanistan or Iraq – invading, pacifying, and administering a large third world country – may be low,” Gates said. To avert such a repeat scenario, the US government must do a better job that focuses on ways to “prevent festering problems from growing into full-blown crises which require costly—and controversial—large-scale American military intervention.”

Gates’ speech prompted Huffington Post blogger William Astore, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, to expand upon the implications of his scalding farewell address at West Point. “I'd like to propose a coda to the ‘Gates Doctrine’: Any current defense secretary who advises the president to prolong the current wars in Asia and the Middle East should have his head examined,” Astore wrote. “The future is now, Mr. Secretary. It's time to end our costly and futile wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It's time to support our troops by bringing them home. And for our next and future nation-building target, let's take a look around us. There's plenty of work to be done right here in the good ol' USA.”

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Egypt’s Path to Peace

Not since the ancient Israelites slipped out on the Pharaoh in a famous dash through the Red Sea has a mass movement of people in that corner of the world so confounded the powers that be.

“The young Egyptian protesters who overthrew the Mubarak regime on Saturday have accomplished what two generations of violent Islamist revolutionaries could not,” Gwynne Dyer, the noted London-based columnist on international affairs, wrote the other day. “And they did not just do it nonviolently; they succeeded because they were nonviolent.”

This was not just historic, given the victory over violence unleashed against unarmed protesters, it points a path for others to follow. Dyer argues that the uprising in Cairo not only overthrew a repressive dictatorship, but also upended the myth of radical Islamism forever poised to sweep the Muslim world.

“It is a testimony to the good sense of the Arabs, and a rebuke to the ignorant rabble of Western pundits and ‘analysts’ who insisted that Arabs could not do democracy at all, or could only be given it at the point of Western guns,” Dyer concluded.

“It is equally a rebuke to bin Laden and his Islamist companions, hidden in their various caves. They were never going to sweep to power across the Arab world, let alone the broader Muslim world, and only the most impressionable and excitable observers ever thought they would.”

While many “Western pundits” on US television news programs howled over this unexpected display of democracy in a part of the world that’s been subjected for generations to Western guns, the demonstrators in Tahrir Square were gleefully dancing on the graves of colonialism, post-colonialism and American paternalistic patronage of Mubarak’s dictatorship. As the New York Times reported on Monday, the Egyptian revolution of 2011 was fueled by democratic ideas and nonviolent ideals that zipped around on the Internet under the radar of military regimes.

“ The exchange on Facebook was part of a remarkable two-year collaboration that has given birth to a new force in the Arab world — a pan-Arab youth movement dedicated to spreading democracy in a region without it. Young Egyptian and Tunisian activists brainstormed on the use of technology to evade surveillance, commiserated about torture and traded practical tips on how to stand up to rubber bullets and organize barricades,” reported David D. Kirkpatrick and David E. Sanger in the New York Times.

“They fused their secular expertise in social networks with a discipline culled from religious movements and combined the energy of soccer fans with the sophistication of surgeons. Breaking free from older veterans of the Arab political opposition, they relied on tactics of nonviolent resistance channeled from an American scholar through a Serbian youth brigade — but also on marketing tactics borrowed from Silicon Valley. …

“They were especially drawn to a Serbian youth movement called Otpor, which had helped topple the dictator Slobodan Milosevic by drawing on the ideas of an American political thinker, Gene Sharp. The hallmark of Mr. Sharp’s work is well-tailored to Mr. Mubark’s Egypt: He argues that nonviolence is a singularly effective way to undermine police states that might cite violent resistance to justify repression in the name of stability.”

After hundreds of billions of dollars in military “aid” to Mubarak’s police state, a trillion dollars spent in two wars chasing after the elusive bin Laden and his mythical Islamist appeals to violent revolutions that Dyer calls “spectacular failures,” the key to constructive change in the Middle East turns out to be far less expensive. It’s a free document called the Bill of Rights, innovative and inexpensive use of the Internet, and a set of books by an American peacemaker recycling a guy whose nonviolent tactics dismantled a large part of the British empire, named Gandhi.

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