Sunday, June 14, 2015

Ominous headlines

On the front page of the New York Times today and Friday, there were headlines in the top right column that were attention getting, and not in a reassuring way.  On Friday, that headline was "Obama Looks at Adding Bases and Troops in Iraq" and today, Sunday, it is "U.S. Poised to Put Heavy Weaponry in East Europe".  This is unlikely to have been how President Obama had envisioned his last two years in office.  Both decisions are proposals at this point, essentially purposefully planted trial balloons, and have not been formally adopted by the White House.

It is easy to be skeptical about the addition of U.S. troops and bases in Iraq.  It is obvious that most Iraqi "fighters" are only nominally committed to any actual warfare for a cause.  Their primary reason for being in the military in the first place was to draw a reliable salary for themselves and their families, something still hard to find in many parts of Iraq.  The Iraqi central government opposes almost any diversion of money and weapons to Sunni tribes or the Kurds, the two real fighting groups in the country, and Obama somehow naively seems to accept that.  One could reasonably think that this action is exactly what ISIS wants, a greater opportunity to draw more U.S. personnel onto their battlefield, to be caught up in a fight with their fighters who to some extent seem to have no fear of death.  It also seems that John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and other U.S. politicians see this as a way to draw the U.S. further into the fight if the greater levels of U.S. "advisers" are threatened.

One could rationally think that staying away from this trap would be wise.  Just let things evolve, and the Shiite militias and the Iranians will confront ISIS in an organized and relentless way.  The U.S. would of course be admitting that their Iraq goals were a complete failure, but why double down on failure.

The Pentagon's proposal to put heavy weapons, major transport, and armed vehicles in various Eastern European NATO member states may well be what Putin wants the U.S. to do and at the same time it is what we need to do to reassure those countries that, for good reason, feel threatened by Russia. Russia would find it hard to lose at this ploy.  They can agitate border populations that may have Russian ties and internal populations of these countries that have some allegiance to Russia. They are there because during the long Soviet occupation many native Russians were repopulated to Eastern Europe to have political and commercial positions of consequence.  Many are still there. With some Russian agitation, the path could lead to negotiation, and any compromise with Russia at all would be a loss for NATO's eastern European countries.  If the U.S. were actually drawn into a conflict to use or advise on use of the weapons, it would not be worth military conflict with Russia and Putin would probably push it to the brink at least with his language.  That said, we cannot always back down from Putin.  He must be confronted, and sanctions would need to become overwhelmingly stringent.  Russian oligarchs would need to be kicked out of London, their assets frozen in London, Geneva, and Zurich, and be made a pariah in the rest of the world.  The outcome would be unclear.

The world political situation is certainly becoming less stable.  Clue.


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