28 June 2016

The Age of Disintegration


Neoliberalism, Interventionism, the Resource Curse, and a Fragmenting World  
By Patrick Cockburn, TomDispatch, 28 June 2016
Re-posted with permission of the author and the editor/publisher of TomDispatch. Patrick Cockburn writes for the Independent and is —at least in my opinion — the finest journalist now covering the Middle East.  His latest book (just out in paperback), Chaos & Caliphate: Jihadis and the West in the Struggle for the Middle East, summarizes much of his work from the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 to Iraq in 2015. It can be purchased by buying it directly from his publisher, OR Books, by clicking here.
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We live in an age of disintegration. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Greater Middle East and Africa. Across the vast swath of territory between Pakistan and Nigeria, there are at least seven ongoing wars -- in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and South Sudan. These conflicts are extraordinarily destructive. They are tearing apart the countries in which they are taking place in ways that make it doubtful they will ever recover. Cities like Aleppo in Syria, Ramadi in Iraq, Taiz in Yemen, and Benghazi in Libya have been partly or entirely reduced to ruins. There are also at least three other serious insurgencies: in southeast Turkey, where Kurdish guerrillas are fighting the Turkish army, in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula where a little-reported but ferocious guerrilla conflict is underway, and in northeast Nigeria and neighboring countries where Boko Haram continues to launch murderous attacks.
All of these have a number of things in common: they are endless and seem never to produce definitive winners or losers. (Afghanistan has effectively been at war since 1979, Somalia since 1991.) They involve the destruction or dismemberment of unified nations, their de facto partition amid mass population movements and upheavals -- well publicized in the case of Syria and Iraq, less so in places like South Sudan where more than 2.4 million people have been displaced in recent years.
Add in one more similarity, no less crucial for being obvious: in most of these countries, where Islam is the dominant religion, extreme Salafi-Jihadi movements, including the Islamic State (IS), al-Qaeda, and the Taliban are essentially the only available vehicles for protest and rebellion. By now, they have completely replaced the socialist and nationalist movements that predominated in the twentieth century; these years have, that is, seen a remarkable reversion to religious, ethnic, and tribal identity, to movements that seek to establish their own exclusive territory by the persecution and expulsion of minorities.
In the process and under the pressure of outside military intervention, a vast region of the planet seems to be cracking open. Yet there is very little understanding of these processes in Washington. This was recently well illustrated by the protest of 51 State Department diplomats against President Obama’s Syrian policy and their suggestion that air strikes be launched targeting Syrian regime forces in the belief that President Bashar al-Assad would then abide by a ceasefire. The diplomats’ approach remains typically simpleminded in this most complex of conflicts, assuming as it does that the Syrian government’s barrel-bombing of civilians and other grim acts are the “root cause of the instability that continues to grip Syria and the broader region.”
It is as if the minds of these diplomats were still in the Cold War era, as if they were still fighting the Soviet Union and its allies. Against all the evidence of the last five years, there is an assumption that a barely extant moderate Syrian opposition would benefit from the fall of Assad, and a lack of understanding that the armed opposition in Syria is entirely dominated by the Islamic State and al-Qaeda clones.
Though the invasion of Iraq in 2003 is now widely admitted to have been a mistake (even by those who supported it at the time), no real lessons have been learned about why direct or indirect military interventions by the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East over the last quarter century have all only exacerbated violence and accelerated state failure.
A Mass Extinction of Independent States
The Islamic State, just celebrating its second anniversary, is the grotesque outcome of this era of chaos and conflict. That such a monstrous cult exists at all is a symptom of the deep dislocation societies throughout that region, ruled by corrupt and discredited elites, have suffered. Its rise -- and that of various Taliban and al-Qaeda-style clones -- is a measure of the weakness of its opponents.
The Iraqi army and security forces, for example, had 350,000 soldiers and 660,000 police on the books in June 2014 when a few thousand Islamic State fighters captured Mosul, the country’s second largest city, which they still hold. Today the Iraqi army, security services, and about 20,000 Shia paramilitaries backed by the massive firepower of the United States and allied air forces have fought their way into the city of Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, against the resistance of IS fighters who may have numbered as few as 900. In Afghanistan, the resurgence of the Taliban, supposedly decisively defeated in 2001, came about less because of the popularity of that movement than the contempt with which Afghans came to regard their corrupt government in Kabul.
Everywhere nation states are enfeebled or collapsing, as authoritarian leaders battle for survival in the face of mounting external and internal pressures. This is hardly the way the region was expected to develop. Countries that had escaped from colonial rule in the second half of the twentieth century were supposed to become more, not less, unified as time passed.
Between 1950 and 1975, nationalist leaders came to power in much of the previously colonized world. They promised to achieve national self-determination by creating powerful independent states through the concentration of whatever political, military, and economic resources were at hand. Instead, over the decades, many of these regimes transmuted into police states controlled by small numbers of staggeringly wealthy families and a coterie of businessmen dependent on their connections to such leaders as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt or Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
In recent years, such countries were also opened up to the economic whirlwind of neoliberalism, which destroyed any crude social contract that existed between rulers and ruled. Take Syria. There, rural towns and villages that had once supported the Baathist regime of the al-Assad family because it provided jobs and kept the prices of necessities low were, after 2000, abandoned to market forces skewed in favor of those in power. These places would become the backbone of the post-2011 uprising. At the same time, institutions like the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) that had done so much to enhance the wealth and power of regional oil producers in the 1970s have lost their capacity for united action.


The question for our moment: Why is a “mass extinction” of independent states taking place in the Middle East, North Africa, and beyond? Western politicians and media often refer to such countries as “failed states.” The implication embedded in that term is that the process is a self-destructive one. But several of the states now labeled “failed” like Libya only became so after Western-backed opposition movements seized power with the support and military intervention of Washington and NATO, and proved too weak to impose their own central governments and so a monopoly of violence within the national territory.
In many ways, this process began with the intervention of a U.S.-led coalition in Iraq in 2003 leading to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the shutting down of his Baathist Party, and the disbanding of his military. Whatever their faults, Saddam and Libya’s autocratic ruler Muammar Gaddafi were clearly demonized and blamed for all ethnic, sectarian, and regional differences in the countries they ruled, forces that were, in fact, set loose in grim ways upon their deaths.
A question remains, however: Why did the opposition to autocracy and to Western intervention take on an Islamic form and why were the Islamic movements that came to dominate the armed resistance in Iraq and Syria in particular so violent, regressive, and sectarian? Put another way, how could such groups find so many people willing to die for their causes, while their opponents found so few? When IS battle groups were sweeping through northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, soldiers who had thrown aside their uniforms and weapons and deserted that country’s northern cities would justify their flight by saying derisively: “Die for [then-Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki? Never!”
A common explanation for the rise of Islamic resistance movements is that the socialist, secularist, and nationalist opposition had been crushed by the old regimes' security forces, while the Islamists were not. In countries like Libya and Syria, however, Islamists were savagely persecuted, too, and they still came to dominate the opposition. And yet, while these religious movements were strong enough to oppose governments, they generally have not proven strong enough to replace them.
Too Weak to Win, But Too Strong to Lose
Though there are clearly many reasons for the present disintegration of states and they differ somewhat from place to place, one thing is beyond question: the phenomenon itself is becoming the norm across vast reaches of the planet.
If you’re looking for the causes of state failure in our time, the place to start is undoubtedly with the end of the Cold War a quarter-century ago. Once it was over, neither the U.S. nor the new Russia that emerged from the Soviet Union’s implosion had a significant interest in continuing to prop up “failed states,” as each had for so long, fearing that the rival superpower and its local proxies would otherwise take over. Previously, national leaders in places like the Greater Middle East had been able to maintain a degree of independence for their countries by balancing between Moscow and Washington. With the break-up of the Soviet Union, this was no longer feasible.
In addition, the triumph of neoliberal free-market economics in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse added a critical element to the mix. It would prove far more destabilizing than it looked at the time.
Again, consider Syria. The expansion of the free market in a country where there was neither democratic accountability nor the rule of law meant one thing above all: plutocrats linked to the nation’s ruling family took anything that seemed potentially profitable. In the process, they grew staggeringly wealthy, while the denizens of Syria’s impoverished villages, country towns, and city slums, who had once looked to the state for jobs and cheap food, suffered. It should have surprised no one that those places became the strongholds of the Syrian uprising after 2011. In the capital, Damascus, as the reign of neoliberalism spread, even the lesser members of the mukhabarat, or secret police, found themselves living on only $200 to $300 a month, while the state became a machine for thievery.
This sort of thievery and the auctioning off of the nation’s patrimony spread across the region in these years. The new Egyptian ruler, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, merciless toward any sign of domestic dissent, was typical. In a country that once had been a standard bearer for nationalist regimes the world over, he didn’t hesitate this April to try to hand over two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia on whose funding and aid his regime is dependent. (To the surprise of everyone, an Egyptian court recently overruled Sisi's decision.)
That gesture, deeply unpopular among increasingly impoverished Egyptians, was symbolic of a larger change in the balance of power in the Middle East: once the most powerful states in the region -- Egypt, Syria, and Iraq -- had been secular nationalists and a genuine counterbalance to Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf monarchies. As those secular autocracies weakened, however, the power and influence of the Sunni fundamentalist monarchies only increased. If 2011 saw rebellion and revolution spread across the Greater Middle East as the Arab Spring briefly blossomed, it also saw counterrevolution spread, funded by those oil-rich absolute Gulf monarchies, which were never going to tolerate democratic secular regime change in Syria or Libya.
Add in one more process at work making such states ever more fragile: the production and sale of natural resources -- oil, gas, and minerals -- and the kleptomania that goes with it. Such countries often suffer from what has become known as “the resources curse”: states increasingly dependent for revenues on the sale of their natural resources -- enough to theoretically provide the whole population with a reasonably decent standard of living -- turn instead into grotesquely corrupt dictatorships. In them, the yachts of local billionaires with crucial connections to the regime of the moment bob in harbors surrounded by slums running with raw sewage. In such nations, politics tends to focus on elites battling and maneuvering to steal state revenues and transfer them as rapidly as possible out of the country.
This has been the pattern of economic and political life in much of sub-Saharan Africa from Angola to Nigeria. In the Middle East and North Africa, however, a somewhat different system exists, one usually misunderstood by the outside world. There is similarly great inequality in Iraq or Saudi Arabia with similarly kleptocratic elites. They have, however, ruled over patronage states in which a significant part of the population is offered jobs in the public sector in return for political passivity or support for the kleptocrats.
In Iraq with a population of 33 million people, for instance, no less than seven million of them are on the government payroll, thanks to salaries or pensions that cost the government $4 billion a month. This crude way of distributing oil revenues to the people has often been denounced by Western commentators and economists as corruption. They, in turn, generally recommend cutting the number of these jobs, but this would mean that all, rather than just part, of the state’s resource revenues would be stolen by the elite. This, in fact, is increasingly the case in such lands as oil prices bottom out and even the Saudi royals begin to cut back on state support for the populace.
Neoliberalism was once believed to be the path to secular democracy and free-market economies. In practice, it has been anything but. Instead, in conjunction with the resource curse, as well as repeated military interventions by Washington and its allies, free-market economics has profoundly destabilized the Greater Middle East. Encouraged by Washington and Brussels, twenty-first-century neoliberalism has made unequal societies ever more unequal and helped transform already corrupt regimes into looting machines. This is also, of course, a formula for the success of the Islamic State or any other radical alternative to the status quo. Such movements are bound to find support in impoverished or neglected regions like eastern Syria or eastern Libya.
Note, however, that this process of destabilization is by no means confined to the Greater Middle East and North Africa. We are indeed in the age of destabilization, a phenomenon that is on the rise globally and at present spreading into the Balkans and Eastern Europe (with the European Union ever less able to influence events there). People no longer speak of European integration, but of how to prevent the complete break-up of the European Union in the wake of the British vote to leave.
The reasons why a narrow majority of Britons voted for Brexit have parallels with the Middle East: the free-market economic policies pursued by governments since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister have widened the gap between rich and poor and between wealthy cities and much of the rest of the country. Britain might be doing well, but millions of Britons did not share in the prosperity. The referendum about continued membership in the European Union, the option almost universally advocated by the British establishment, became the catalyst for protest against the status quo. The anger of the "Leave" voters has much in common with that of Donald Trump supporters in the United States.
The U.S. remains a superpower, but is no longer as powerful as it once was. It, too, is feeling the strains of this global moment, in which it and its local allies are powerful enough to imagine they can get rid of regimes they do not like, but either they do not quite succeed, as in Syria, or succeed but cannot replace what they have destroyed, as in Libya. An Iraqi politician once said that the problem in his country was that parties and movements were “too weak to win, but too strong to lose.” This is increasingly the pattern for the whole region and is spreading elsewhere. It carries with it the possibility of an endless cycle of indecisive wars and an era of instability that has already begun.

Patrick Cockburn is a Middle East correspondent for the Independent of London and the author of five books on the Middle East, the latest of which is Chaos and Caliphate: Jihadis and the West in the Struggle for the Middle East (OR Books).

27 June 2016

Trumping Hillary: The Same Old Pol-Mil Game


Will the 2016 Election Change America’s Militarized Foreign Policy?
Pro-Israel Neocons have said they will jump off the Republican ship and vote for Hillary Clinton, because she will continue business as usual with regard to our militarized foreign policy.  Apologists for Donald Trump argue that he will pursue a more restrained and less warlike foreign policy, including a more balanced policy toward Israel.  
But recent  report by Stuart Winer in the Times of Israel suggests Trump’s bombastic 'art of the deal,’ at least when applied to pol-mil policy, will turn out to be yet another politician's distinction without a difference — to wit:
A senior adviser to Donald Trump said Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should wait for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee to win the White House before signing a military aid deal with Washington, because Trump would offer a better deal than the Obama administration
In an interview with Channel 2 television David Friedman said that a Trump administration would maintain Israel’s military advantage over its neighbors. He said Trump would not reduce defense aid to Israel but “in all likelihood will increase it significantly.”
“The aid package will certainly not go down in all likelihood it will go up in a material amount because Israel must maintain a technological and military superiority within the region,” Freidman said. “I can’t give advice how Israel should bargain and develop its own strategy.”
Friedman’s suggestion that Trump would increase aid to Israel apparently ran contrary to the GOP candidate’s call to make Israel pay back foreign aid. In March, Trump said he believed Israel should pay for defense aid it receives from the US.
Could it be that the choice for President in 2016 will have no effect on America's militarized foreign policy, and if so, would this be something new and different? 
As with most political questions in Versailles on the Potomac, the pathway to answering this question is less one of Ivory-tower policy analysis than a gritty one of following the money  — in this case the money flowing through the triangular relations of the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex.  It is a question that goes to the heart of President Eisenhower’s prophetic warning, "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."
More on this question later.

20 June 2016

Update on the Palestinian Water Crisis


Access to water is one of the most fundamental and least discussed issues underpinning the Israeli - Palestinian conflict (as well as the recurring pattern of Israel’s conflicts with Syria and Lebanon).  Control of the West Bank’s water resources is intimately tied into the growing pattern of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and, if left unchecked, Israel’s inevitable annexation of Area C (60%) of the West Bank (thereby formalizing the Gazification of Areas A&B).   Water resources are also intimately woven into the pattern of destruction in Israel’s siege of the Gaza ghetto. 
Most Americans remain unaware of water’s central importance in this conflict. Yet a fair and equitable solution to this issue is a necessary albeit not sufficient condition for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on terms that do not sow the seeds for future conflict. 
The parameters of the water question in the Jordan River Valley have been long understood, if ignored, by American policy makers (see the 1955 Johnston Plan and the Johnston Plan Revisited).  Indeed, in its current context, the these parameters reach back to the 3 February 1919 Zionist proposal to Versailles Peace Conference for a Jewish national home (do a word search for “water” and think about the implications of the highlighted text).  More generally, the history of access to water in this region reaches back to the dawn of civilization and the creation of agriculture.  The Jordan River drainage system (along with Lebanon’s surface water systems) together with the aquifers in the highlands of the West Bank (and of Lebanon) connect the two wings of the Fertile Crescent stretching from the Nile River system in the West to Tigris and Euphrates River systems in the East.  It is no accident that the location of one of the world’s oldest cities, the Palestinian canton of Jericho, was determined in large part by its access to the wells and springs in the center of this link.
I first became interested in this issue in 2001 (and did a subsequent, more extensive analysis in 2003 here).  Since 2001, the water question has worsened with each passing year, yet it still receives almost no attention in the mainstream media.  
The attached analysis by Camilla Corradin in Aljazeera is an excellent update of this steadily worsening question.  The links in her report are particularly important sources of information.  I urge readers to read the links as well as her essay.

Israel: Water as a tool to dominate Palestinians
Israel deliberately denies Palestinians control over their water sources and sets the ground for water domination.
Camilla Corradin, Aljazeera, 20 June 2016
Occupied West Bank - As temperatures rise and summer months approach, yet again this year, thousands of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are being deprived of their most basic need - access to water - as the Israeli national water company Mekorot restricted the water supply to villages and towns in northern West Bank.
Although extremely worrying for the livelihood and health impact on the affected tens of thousands of Palestinians, this comes to little surprise.
Since it occupied the West Bank in 1967, Israel has laid hands on Palestinian water resources through discriminatory water-sharing agreements that prevented Palestinians from maintaining or developing their water infrastructure through its illegal planning and permit regime. As a result, thousands of Palestinians are unable to access sufficient water supplies and became water-dependent on Israel.
By building on the myth of a water-scarce region - Ramallah has more rainfall than London - Israel has deliberately denied Palestinians control over their water resources and successfully set the ground for water domination, granting itself a further tool to exercise its hegemony over the occupied population and territory.


Palestinian water resources in the West Bank wouldn't be scarce - they include the Jordan River, running all along the eastern border of the West Bank, and the Mountain Aquifer underlying the West Bank and Israel. Both water resources are transboundary - meaning that, by international law, they should be shared in an equitable and reasonable manner by Israel and Palestine.
Yet, since Israel took over the West Bank in 1967, Israel has remained in near full control over Palestinian water resources in the West Bank.
Israel fully prevents Palestinians from accessing the Jordan River and using its water. As for the Mountain Aquifer, the 1995 Oslo II interim agreement - which also defined the water-sharing arrangements between Palestine and Israel - came to consolidate the Israeli control that had been in place since 1967.
Israel was granted access to over 71 percent of the aquifer water, while Palestinians were only granted 17 percent. While the agreement was supposed to last five years only, 20 years later, it is still in place.
Water-sharing agreement discussions are left to the long-awaited final status negotiations.
While the Palestinian population of the West Bank has almost doubled since, allocations have remained capped at 1995 levels. Today, Palestinians have access to less water than they were granted by the already-inequitable Oslo agreements: 13 percent, with Israel abstracting the remaining 87.
Indeed, as pointed out by the World Bank in its 2009 report about the water sector in Palestine, due to the dual Israeli permit regime, Palestinians have been unable to maintain and develop their water infrastructure.
In Palestinian wells where the water table has dropped, for instance, the Israeli restrictions on drilling, deepening and rehabilitation have made the wells un-usable and Palestinian water abstraction levels decline.
On the one hand, Palestinian water projects all over the West Bank need an approval by the Joint Water Committee (JWC), where Israel has a de facto veto power. Only 56 percent of Palestinian projects regarding water and sanitation were granted permits by the JWC (against a near 100 percent approval rate for the Israeli projects), and only one-third of those could actually be implemented.
Concerned by the asymmetry in the JWC functioning, Palestinians have refused to sit in the committee since 2010.
In addition to the JWC approval, all projects in Area C also require a permit by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA), which are notoriously difficult to obtain. As reported by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the ICA has refused between 2010 and 2014 98.5 percent of the Palestinian building permit applications for Area C projects.
Over 50 water and sanitation structures have been demolished by Israel since the beginning of 2016 already (more than in the entire 2015) on grounds that they were lacking the Israeli permits.
Israel's claims that the failing water infrastructure is the cause of the water cuts in the West Bank fail to acknowledge that the poor infrastructure is a direct result of the Israeli permit regime in the West Bank.
The lack of water and other basic services resulting from Israeli policies has created a coercive environment that often leaves Palestinians with no choice but to leave their communities in Area C, allowing Israel's land takeover and further expansion of its settlements.
But as recent events have shown, Areas A and B are not safe havens either. Due to the lack of sufficient water resources available, Palestine heavily depends on water bought from Mekorot (18.5 percent in 2014). Ironically, this is water that Israel takes from the rightful Palestinian share - which they are denied - before selling it back to them.
This has granted Israel further control over Palestinian access to water. As soon as water demand increases in the hot spring and summer months, supplies to settlements are privileged over Palestinian areas in the West Bank.
Every year, water supply to Palestinian towns and villages is cut off for days - if not weeks - during which Palestinians are forced to buy trucked water at five times the price of network water - as well as reduce their already low consumption.
Water consumption figures are telling: While Israelis have access to around 240 litres of water per person per day, and settlers over 300, Palestinians in the West Bank are left with 73 litres - well below the World Health Organization's minimum standard of 100.
OCHA report that in Area C, where 180 Palestinian communities are not connected to the water network and 122 have a connection with no or irregular supply as a result of Israeli restrictions, water consumption can drop to 20 litres of water per person per day as people have to buy expensive trucked water.
Here, vulnerable households spend up to one-fifth of their salary on water.
For instance, while people in the Palestinian community of al-Hadidiya in the northern Jordan Valley have access to as little as 20 litres of water per person per day - settlers in the neighbouring settlement of Ro'i enjoy 460 litres of water per person for domestic use only, a swimming pool and flourishing agriculture.
Israel, as the occupying power has an obligation under international humanitarian law to ensure the dignity and wellbeing of the population under its control.
This includes obligations regarding the provision of and access to humanitarian relief and basic services, including water and sanitation.
Not only is Israel failing to provide for such basic needs. Its discriminatory water policies also prove that Israel is using water as a tool to dominate Palestinians, exercise its power, and punish an entire population by deliberately depriving its inhabitants the most basic of rights.

Camilla Corradin is advocating for Palestinian water rights with the EWASH NGOs coalitio

17 June 2016

Why Are Defense Policy Wonks So Ineffectual?


“People say the Pentagon does not have a strategy.  They are wrong; the Pentagon does have a strategy.  It is: Don’t interrupt the money flow, add to it.”
Fighter pilot
Aircraft designer
Strategist

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. 
In their view, the top priority should be to re-define our foreign policy goals (hopefully in accordance with the criteria for a sensible grand strategy, although these criteria are seldom examined in a systematic way).  The redefined grand strategic goals would then form a basis for defining a rational military strategy to meet these goals.  Once the strategy is settled upon by the policy elites, the drones in the Pentagon can define the force structure to meet the strategy.  That force structure would then provide the template against which the budgeteers can define the budget decisions needed to build and maintain the forces necessary to execute the strategy.  QED.
This neat comforting top-down viewpoint conveys the illusion of control.   It plays well in the high brow salons of Versailles on the Potomac, the halls of Congress, and among the elitist pundocracy in the mainstream media and the ivory tower think tanks of Washington. But history shows this logic does not work.
The logic has been repeated ad nauseam by policy wonks on the left and right since the dawn of the Cold War in 1950.  Yet for all their handwringing about strategy-budget mismatches, the policy wonks refuse to recognize the obvious:  Since 1962, the Pentagon’s formal planning system — the Planning, Programming, and Budgeting System (PPBS) — is a set of bureaucratic procedures designed precisely in accordance with their sacred top-down logic.  Yet the PPBS has failed repeatedly to link budgets to forces and strategy (for reasons I explained here and here).  The simple-minded idea that foreign policy (i.e., grand strategy) drives strategy and shapes force structures and budgets simply does not work in the real world.  And the reason is fundamental: the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex (MICC) is not a top-down mechanistic phenomenon that responds predictably to this kind of naive control theory.  
The MICC is more accurately thought of as a synthetic (bottom-up) living culture that creates its own political-economic ecology.  Part of that ecology is the MICC’s corrupting effects on domestic politics.  President Eisenhower’s prophetic warning about the rise of misplaced power hinted at but did not delve into the reasons for the living nature of this political-economic ecology.  It is now fifty-four years later, and the MICC has evolved into a deeply entrenched, bewildering variety of ever changing  goal-seeking factions, each fighting for money and power in a game of very messy domestic politics.  These factions are loosely self-organized (via revolving doors, for example) into iron triangles that grow and decay over time.  
These factions compete with each other or make temporary alliances of convenience in their efforts to acquire money and power (as I explained here, here, and here).  Put another way, the MICC is fundamentally a bottom-up living, evolving political-economic organism, and it produces its own peculiar ecology.  It is made up of self-organizing factions in which the pursuit of each faction’s individual goals create combined effects that can be thought of as the MICC’s emergent properties.  There is simply no way the sterile top-down logic described above can cope with the MICC’s ever-evolving power games and unpredictable work arounds.  The output of the game is summed up pithily by Boyd’s quote, and the MICCs players are now hell bent on starting a new Cold War as the only way to achieve its factional ambitions.  We will not fix this problem posed by the MICC until we come to grips with its elemental nature.
Attached is a recent essay by my good friend Andrew Cockburn.  Andrew brilliantly elaborates on Boyd’s point and the apparent disconnect between strategy and budgets. I say “apparent disconnect” because the MICC has a real strategy, and like all effective strategies, it is not obvious.  
---------------
* Front loading and political engineering are explained in my 1990 pamphlet Defense Power Games.

Chuck Spinney 
---------------------------

The Pentagon’s Real $trategy: Keeping the Money Flowing
Posted by Andrew Cockburn, TomDispatch, at 7:28am, June 16, 2016.
[Reposted with Permission of the Author]
These days, lamenting the apparently aimless character of Washington’s military operations in the Greater Middle East has become conventional wisdom among administration critics of every sort. Senator John McCain thunders that “this president has no strategy to successfully reverse the tide of slaughter and mayhem” in that region. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies bemoans the “lack of a viable and public strategy.” Andrew Bacevich suggests that “there is no strategy. None. Zilch.”
After 15 years of grinding war with no obvious end in sight, U.S. military operations certainly deserve such obloquy. But the pundit outrage may be misplaced. Focusing on Washington rather than on distant war zones, it becomes clear that the military establishment does indeed have a strategy, a highly successful one, which is to protect and enhance its own prosperity.
Given this focus, creating and maintaining an effective fighting force becomes a secondary consideration, reflecting a relative disinterest -- remarkable to outsiders -- in the actual business of war, as opposed to the business of raking in dollars for the Pentagon and its industrial and political partners. A key element of the strategy involves seeding the military budget with “development” projects that require little initial outlay but which, down the line, grow irreversibly into massive, immensely profitable production contracts for our weapons-making cartels.
If this seems like a startling proposition, consider, for instance, the Air Force’s determined and unyielding efforts to jettison the A-10 Thunderbolt, widely viewed as the most effective means for supporting troops on the ground, while ardently championing the sluggish, vastly overpriced F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that, among myriad other deficiencies, cannot fly within 25 miles of a thunderstorm. No less telling is the Navy’s ongoing affection for budget-busting programs such as aircraft carriers, while maintaining its traditional disdain for the unglamorous and money-poor mission of minesweeping, though the mere threat of enemy mines in the 1991 Gulf War (as in the Korean War decades earlier) stymied plans for major amphibious operations. Examples abound across all the services.  
Meanwhile, ongoing and dramatic programs to invest vast sums in meaningless, useless, or superfluous weapons systems are the norm. There is no more striking example of this than current plans to rebuild the entire American arsenal of nuclear weapons in the coming decades, Obama's staggering bequest to the budgets of his successors.
Taking Nuclear Weapons to the Bank 
These nuclear initiatives have received far less attention than they deserve, perhaps because observers are generally loath to acknowledge that the Cold War and its attendant nuclear terrors, supposedly consigned to the ashcan of history a quarter-century ago, are being revived on a significant scale. The U.S. is currently in the process of planning for the construction of a new fleet of nuclear submarines loaded with new intercontinental nuclear missiles, while simultaneously creating a new land-based intercontinental missile, a new strategic nuclear bomber, a new land-and-sea-based tactical nuclear fighter plane, a new long-range nuclear cruise missile (which, as recently as 2010, the Obama administration explicitly promised not to develop), at least three nuclear warheads that are essentially new designs, and new fuses for existing warheads. In addition, new nuclear command-and-control systems are under development for a fleet of satellites (costing up to $1 billion each) designed to make the business of fighting a nuclear war more practical and manageable.  
This massive nuclear buildup, routinely promoted under the comforting rubric of “modernization,” stands in contrast to the president’s lofty public ruminations on the topic of nuclear weapons. The most recent of these was delivered during his visit -- the first by an American president -- to Hiroshima last month. There, he urged “nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles” to “have the courage to escape the logic of fear, and pursue a world without them.”
In reality, that “logic of fear” suggests that there is no way to “fight” a nuclear war, given the unforeseeable but horrific effects of these immensely destructive weapons.  They serve no useful purpose beyond deterring putative opponents from using them, for which an extremely limited number would suffice. During the Berlin crisis of 1961, for example, when the Soviets possessed precisely four intercontinental nuclear missiles, White House planners seriously contemplated launching an overwhelming nuclear strike on the USSR.  It was, they claimed, guaranteed to achieve “victory.” As Fred Kaplan recounts in his book Wizards of Armageddon, the plan’s advocates conceded that the Soviets might, in fact, be capable of managing a limited form of retaliation with their few missiles and bombers in which as many as three million Americans could be killed, whereupon the plan was summarily rejected.
In other words, in the Cold War as today, the idea of “nuclear war-fighting” could not survive scrutiny in a real-world context. Despite this self-evident truth, the U.S. military has long been the pioneer in devising rationales for fighting such a war via ever more “modernized” weapons systems. Thus, when first introduced in the early 1960s, the Navy’s invulnerable Polaris-submarine-launched intercontinental missiles -- entirely sufficient in themselves as a deterrent force against any potential nuclear enemy -- were seen within the military as an attack on Air Force operations and budgets. The Air Force responded by conceiving and successfully selling the need for a full-scale, land-based missile force as well, one that could more precisely target enemy missiles in what was termed a “counterforce” strategy.
The drive to develop and build such systems on the irrational pretense that nuclear war fighting is a practical proposition persists today.  One component of the current “modernization” plan is the proposed development of a new “dial-a-yield” version of the venerable B-61 nuclear bomb. Supposedly capable of delivering explosions of varying strength according to demand, this device will, at least theoretically, be guidable to its target with high degrees of accuracy and will also be able to burrow deep into the earth to destroy buried bunkers. The estimated bill -- $11 billion -- is a welcome boost for the fortunes of the Sandia and Los Alamos weapons laboratories that are developing it. 
The ultimate cost of this new nuclear arsenal in its entirety is essentially un-knowable. The only official estimate we have so far came from the Congressional Budget Office, which last year projected a total of $350 billion. That figure, however, takes the “modernization” program only to 2024 -- before, that is, most of the new systems move from development to actual production and the real bills for all of this start thudding onto taxpayers’ doormats. This year, for instance, the Navy is spending a billion and a half dollars in research and development funds on its new missile submarine, known only as the SSBN(X). Between 2025 and 2035, however, annual costs for that program are projected to run at $10 billion a year. Similar escalations are in store for the other items on the military’s impressive nuclear shopping list. 
Assiduously tabulating these projections, experts at the Monterey Center for Nonproliferation Studies peg the price of the total program at a trillion dollars. In reality, though, the true bill that will come due over the next few decades will almost certainly be multiples of that. For example, the Air Force has claimed that its new B-21 strategic bombers will each cost more than $564 million (in 2010 dollars), yet resolutely refuses to release its secret internal estimates for the ultimate cost of the program. 
To offer a point of comparison, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the tactical nuclear bomber previously mentioned, was originally touted as costing no more than $35 million per plane. In fact, it will actually enter service with a sticker price well in excess of $200 million.  
Nor does that trillion-dollar figure take into account the inevitable growth of America’s nuclear “shield.” Nowadays, the excitement and debate once generated by President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” scheme to build a defense system of anti-missile missiles and other devices against a nuclear attack is long gone. (The idea for such a defense, in fact, dates back to the 1950s, but Reagan boosted it to prominence.) Nevertheless, missile defense still routinely soaks up some $10 billion of our money annually, even though it is known to have no utility whatsoever. 
“We have nothing to show for it,” Tom Christie, the former director of the Pentagon’s testing office, told me recently. “None of the interceptors we currently have in silos waiting to shoot down enemy missiles have ever worked in tests.” Even so, the U.S. is busy constructing more anti-missile bases across Eastern Europe. As our offensive nuclear programs are built up in the years to come, almost certainly eliciting a response from Russia and China, the pressure for a costly expansion of our nuclear “defenses” will surely follow.
The Bow-Wave Strategy 
It’s easy enough to find hypocrisy in President Obama’s mellifluous orations on abolishing nuclear weapons given the trillion-dollar-plus nuclear legacy he will leave in his wake. The record suggests, however, that faced with the undeviating strategic thinking of the military establishment and its power to turn desires into policy, he has simply proven as incapable of altering the Washington system as his predecessors in the Oval Office were or as his successors are likely to be. 
Inside the Pentagon, budget planners and weapons-buyers talk of the “bow wave,” referring to the process by which current research and development initiatives, initially relatively modest in cost, invariably lock in commitments to massive spending down the road. Traditionally, such waves start to form at times when the military is threatened with possible spending cutbacks due to the end of a war or some other budgetary crisis.
Former Pentagon analyst Franklin “Chuck” Spinney, who spent years observing and chronicling the phenomenon from the inside, recalls an early 1970s bow wave at a time when withdrawal from Vietnam appeared to promise a future of reduced defense spending. The military duly put in place an ambitious “modernization” program for new planes, ships, tanks, satellites, and missiles. Inevitably, when it came time to actually buy all those fancy new systems, there was insufficient money in the defense budget. 
Accordingly, the high command cut back on spending for “readiness”; that is, for maintaining existing weapons in working order, training troops, and similar mundane activities. This had the desired effect -- at least from the point of view of Pentagon -- of generating a raft of media and congressional horror stories about the shocking lack of preparedness of our fighting forces and the urgent need to boost its budget. In this way, the hapless Jimmy Carter, elected to the presidency on a promise to rein in defense spending, found himself, in Spinney’s phrase, "mousetrapped," and eventually unable to resist calls for bigger military budgets. 
This pattern would recur at the beginning of the 1990s when the Soviet Union imploded and the Cold War superpower military confrontation seemed at an end.  The result was the germination of ultimately budget-busting weapons systems like the Air Force’s F-35 and F-22 fighters. It happened again when pullbacks from Iraq and Afghanistan in Obama’s first term led to mild military spending cuts. As Spinney points out, each successive bow wave crests at a higher level, while military budget cuts due to wars ending and the like become progressively more modest. 
The latest nuclear buildup is only the most glaring and egregious example of the present bow wave that is guaranteed to grow to monumental proportions long after Obama has retired to full-time speechmaking. The cost of the first of the Navy’s new Ford Class aircraft carriers, for example, has already grown by 20% to $13 billion with more undoubtedly to come. The “Third Offset Strategy,” a fantasy-laden shopping list of robot drones and “centaur” (half-man, half-machine) weapons systems, assiduously touted by Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, is similarly guaranteed to expand stunningly beyond the $3.6 billion allotted to its development next year.  
Faced with such boundlessly ambitious raids on the public purse, no one should claim a “lack of strategy” as a failing among our real policymakers, even if all that planning has little or nothing to do with distant war zones where Washington’s conflicts smolder relentlessly on.  
Andrew Cockburn is the Washington editor of Harper’s Magazine. An Irishman, he has covered national security topics in this country for many years. In addition to numerous books, he co-produced the 1997 feature film The Peacemaker and the 2009 documentary on the financial crisis, American Casino. His latest book is Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins (just out in paperback). 
Copyright 2016 Andrew Cockburn

10 June 2016

OODA Loops, the War of 1812, and the Evolution of the Star Wars Mentality


Attached below is a fascinating book review by Professor Andrew Lambert describing naval combat in the Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812 (map). Most people think of the Royal Navy of the Nelson era as one of conducting great sea battles, like the battles of Trafalgar or Cape St. Vincent.  But one of the Royal Navy’s great strengths during the Nelson era was creating strategic effects on land and sea by combining blockading with coastal raiding.  Admiral George Cockburn's Chesapeake campaign of 1813-14 is a case in point.  It had enormous ramifications, the rumblings of which can still be felt insensibly in the halls of the Pentagon.

Note especially Lambert's casual reference to Adm. Cockburn operating inside the Americans' decision cycle.  Readers of this blog have seen this phrase many times.

One interesting aspect of this casual reference is that it was written by a British naval historian at King’s College, London; and it is written in a way that assumes the idea of operating inside a decision cycle is common knowledge.  The use of the modifier “inside” is clearly an oblique reference to the strategic theories of the American strategist Col. John Boyd, which are centered on his conception of how the Observation - Orientation - Decision - Action (OODA) Loop acts in conflict situations.   Of course, Lambert makes no reference to Boyd or his brilliant and original insights regarding the inherent vulnerabilities in everyone's OODA Loop.  Nevertheless, Lambert’s examples of American disorientation are consistent with the vulnerabilities predicted by Boyd’s theory.  Lambert’s essay is also an excellent albeit inadvertent example illustrating the success of Boyd's goal of infiltrating his ideas into conversations about strategy without publishing those ideas.  (Boyd and I often discussed this infiltration strategy to shape one’s Orientation over the years, usually when I pleaded with him to publish his work.)

Professor Lambert's cryptic comment about the legacy of Cockburn’s Chesapeake campaign as creating an American obsession with building immense coastal defense fortifications is insightful and suggests Cockburn’s penetration of the American decision cycle had profound and long lasting effects.  Unfortunately, Lambert does not probe the ramifications of this proposition.

That legacy was a 51-year spending spree for the “third system” of 42 fortresses, eventually reaching from Maine to California, to defend American ports from future Cockburns.  This program commenced in 1816, shortly after the War of 1812 ended, and lasted until 1867.  Construction expenditures (from congressional appropriations) continued until at least 1875, well after the forts were proven to have very limited strategic benefits, to put it charitably.  The US Army continued spending money on coastal defense artillery until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and WWII put an end to the foolishness. (These forts were not the only example of the pioneering role that the War of 1812 had in creating military-industrial-congressional boondoggles -- see John Steel Gordon's hilarious account of how the Navy's ships of the line program, started in 1816, also established long lasting pork barreling precedents in American shipbuilding.)   

The spending boondoggles on coastal defense can be thought of as a 19th Century equivalent to today's obsession with ballistic missile defense.  Like Star Wars (and France's Maginot Line), the shield posed by defensive fortress technologies could not keep up with the sword posed by the evolving offensive technologies, like rapid fire, large caliber, rifled artillery.  Nevertheless, like Star Wars, the money kept flowing into these monuments to man’s foolishness.

The Corps of Engineers, for example, even built a second fort in Baltimore harbor, Fort Carroll.  Construction began in 1848, and the chief engineer was Robert E. Lee.  Ft Carroll is down river from Fort McHenry (which withstood Cockburn’s bombardment) and Fort Carroll still stands, never used in combat, overgrown with weeds, and not worth converting into a monument — even plans to convert Fort Carroll into a casino were scrubbed.  A few of these forts saw action in the Civil War but not in the way intended.  Most fell easily after being bombarded by land forces: e.g., Fort Sumpter surrendered after 24 hrs of bombardment; Fort Pulaski in Savannah surrendered after only 30 hrs of shore bombardment; and Fort Macon in Beaufort, NC surrendered after only 11 hrs of bombardment. These actions had nothing to do with coastal defense against foreign enemies.  Ironclad warships and the far greater lethality of rifled cannon technologies revealed the uselessness of these fortresses in the Civil War, but construction of the forts continued after the Civil War.  Even after they fell into disuse, many were re-armed and re-manned to deter the non-existent threat posed by the Spanish Navy during the Spanish-American War.   

My favorite is Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, about 70 miles west of Key West.  It the largest of these fortresses. Under construction for nearly thirty years (1846-1875), like Ballistic Missile Defense, it was never finished nor fully armed.  Yet to this to this day, the US government claims that Fort Jefferson as a powerful deterrent that protected the peace and prosperity of our young nation.  This characterization is utter nonsense: America was indeed young, but it was hardly vulnerable after the Civil War.  America emerged from the Civil War as one of, if not the largest industrial power(s) in the World.  America also had the world’s most battle hardened and capable leaders, particularly at the operational and strategic level of combat. If the Union army under Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan had opposed the Prussian Army of 1871 in France, it is very unlikely that Grant et al would have allowed the Germans to recover from their initial mistakes at the outset of the Franco-Prussian War.  America also evolved some of the world’s most advanced weapons and Naval technologies that made the wooden sailing ships of the Royal Navy obsolete. The idea that Great Britain, Imperial Germany, or Japan could have repeated anything like Admiral Cockburn’s capers in the Chesapeake after the American Civil War is simply inconceivable. 

Fort Jefferson is no longer in use as a military facility and is currently part of the Dry Tortugas National Park.

source: wikipedia

However, Fort Jefferson was not entirely useless.  It did make a dandy prison for Union deserters during the Civil War and later for Dr. Samuel Mudd, the physician who treated John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg. Fort Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay also made a dandy prison.  And today, Fort Jefferson is a great cruising destination and a useful harbor of refuge for sailors intent on exploring the Gulf of Mexico or the delights of Havana. 



Posted on December 1, 2010
Book Review
Donald G. Shomette, Flotilla: The Patuxent Naval Campaign in the War of 1812, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009. 520 pp., illustrations, maps, line drawings.
Review by Andrew Lambert, International Journal of Naval History
King’s College, London
Originally published in 1981 a revised and enlarged edition of this essential volume will be a major contribution to the bicentenary literature of the War of 1812. From his initial search for the archaeology of an abandoned gunboat flotilla in the shallows of the Patuxent River Donald Shomette has become the historian of Commodore Joshua Barney and his mosquito force.
By 1813 the war with Britain , essayed so lightly only a year earlier, had turned sour. Humiliating defeats on the Canadian border had been temporarily assuaged by stunning naval successes, but as Royal Navy forces on the coast steadily built up Americans came to recognise the reality of taking on the Leviathan of the deep. Although the British were fighting for their very existence against Napoleon they were determined to defend Canada , and the oceanic commerce that funded their war. They had no desire to wage war with America , and had no plans to re-conquer the old colonies. They wanted to secure peace with minimum effort. With the Army tied up in Spain they were unable to provide a significant military force, relying on the Royal Navy to translate sea control into effect on land, to shift from naval to maritime strategy.
With small, agile forces the British would practise intelligence-led warfare, relying on an uncontrolled American print media, and the willingness of many men to take the King’s gold. Already well informed of the bitter sectional divisions between Republican and Federalist politics the British carefully chose targets that would influence the administration. The rich tidewater region of Chesapeake Bay, close to the new national capitol, and the main privateer base at Baltimore , produced the export crops of the very men who had voted for war. By striking here the British hoped to take the pressure off the Canadian frontier. The destruction of public and private buildings in the Canadian towns of York and Dover provided an occasion for punitive measures.
In the summer of 1813, with the Royal Navy running riot along the Maryland tidewater, Barney, a Revolutionary war hero, and a successful privateer skipper, proposed building a flotilla of shallow draft gunboats, 50 or 75 feet long, to exploit local knowledge and challenge the British in areas where heavy sailing ships could not operate. The U.S. Flotilla Service was created to operate these craft, with Barney in command. In 1814 Barney and his men, less than a thousand all told, would be the only effective forces placed between the British and the civilians of the area. When the British landed local gentlemen tried to save their estates, but militia units generally ran away, as did many the slaves. Many former slaves joined the British as ‘Colonial Marines’, proving themselves good soldiers, and local experts. By contrast to the part-time soldiers Barney’s Flotilla attacked the enemy, and when cornered put up a hard fight. Much of the credit must go to Barney, a resourceful, brave and professional leader. The actions of the Flotilla, and of the flotillamen ashore at Bladensburg provided a heroic contrast to the endemic ineptitude of their military counterparts.
Making all allowance for the professed subject, the real hero of this book is Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn. A protégé of the immortal Nelson, and a veteran of twenty years of war at sea and on the littoral, Cockburn combined vast experience with an incisive intellect and a brilliant grasp of the higher direction of war. Without a single soldier his 1814 campaign ripped aside the tissue thin veil of American defence, exposing the Government, capital and army to humiliation. Lacking the resources to tackle the major ports, Baltimore , Norfolk and Annapolis , he relied on a tiny naval raiding force to keep the enemy guessing. The British offensive targeted American weakness, incessant raids kept the militia moving, provided a plentiful supply of fresh food, water, lumber to build a fortified base on Tangier Island , and hogsheads of tobacco to generate the prize money that kept sailors interested. When an army of less than 5,000 men finally arrived, Cockburn cajoled his superior officer and the commanding General into a stunning stroke that left Barney’s gunboats, Washington and the Navy Yard in ashes. His campaign should be taught at every Staff College . There is no better example of maritime strategy at work; flexible, quick, and always operating inside the enemy’s decision-making cycle. Cockburn planned the whole campaign to distract and demoralise the enemy, gather vital navigational intelligence and build up for a dramatic conclusion that would teach the enemy not to attack the British, even when they were at war with Napoleon. The legacy of those campaigns would be the immense stone fortifications that surrounded every significant American port. If vituperation be any measure of a man’s impact on his foes then George Cockburn must have been a titan. No insult was too scurrilous to be published. He took his revenge quietly, his official portrait, reproduced on page 126, shows him ashore, with spurs on his boots, the public buildings of Washington ablaze in the distance. In 1832 Cockburn was sent to command the American station, just as a border dispute threatened the fragile Anglo-American peace. Roger Morriss’s 1997 biography of this amphibious expert would have been a useful addition to the bibliography. At page 232 Cockburn’s Commander in Chief in 1814, Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, is conflated with his more famous nephew, Thomas, Lord Cochrane, the model for every fictional Royal Navy hero of the Nelson era from Marryatt to O’Brien. While he lacked Cockburn’s local expertise Sir Alexander was also an amphibious warfare expert, having overseen assault landing at Aboukir in 1801 and other major disembarkations.
Based on a wealth of primary evidence Flotilla is a delight to read, carefully crafted and nicely paced, mixing telling human interventions from key players with analysis of the unfolding drama. The illustrations, contemporary drawings, portraits and modern maps are ideally placed to illustrate and explain the flotilla craft, personalities and operations. This will be an essential text for students of the war, and of maritime strategy. Barney’s gunboats did well, but they had no answer to Cockburn’s squadron

27 May 2016

Ignoring the Past is Good for the MICC’s Business


Why We Should Not Question the Decision to Drop the Atomic Bombs on Japan

[also posted by Consortium New as New Nucs for a New Cold War]

With the passage of time, the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima (a uranium bomb) and Nagasaki (a plutonium bomb) in August of 1945 has become more controversial among historians but not in the public mind.  Was the destruction of these two low priority targets necessary to end the war with the Japan?

In 1945 and thereafter, beginning with the Truman Administration, politicians and milcrats convinced the public that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war quickly and thereby saved American and Japanese lives.  Against the background of the brutality and racism of the Pacific War — and especially the just completed battles of Okinawa and Iwo Jima, and the overwhelming psychological effects of the Kamikazes — this justification was easy to believe by those troops designated for the invasion of Japan* as well as by a public anxious to end the war. And this belief has lingered thru the years, largely unquestioned.   But the story of the decision to drop the bomb is far more complicated than this simple argument suggests.  

One of the world’s leading historians of Truman's decision to drop the bomb, Gar Alperovitz, recently sat down with journalist Andrew Cockburn to discuss these complexities (attached below).

The question addressed by Alperovitz and Cockburn is more than a idle historical curiosity.  Alperovitz hints as much in the last pregnant paragraph of his interview.  President Obama’s administration is planting the seed money for an across-the-board-modernization of nuclear weapons, delivery systems, and support systems that will cost at least a trillion dollars (more likely $2-3 trillion, IMO) over the next 15-30 years.  While its details are shrouded in secrecy, public information is oozing out (e.g. see this link).  Present information now suggests this program includes: a new ballistic missile launching submarine; a new strategic bomber; a new land based intercontinental missile; a new air launched cruise missile; modernization of and adding precision guidance to the B-61 “dial-a-yield gravity bomb; modernization of strategic ballistic missile warheads; upgrades to the sea launched ballistic missiles; a massive upgrade to the surveillance, reconnaissance,  command, control, and communications systems needed to manage nuclear warfighting; continuation and upgrades to ballistic missile defense systems (rationale: gotta have a “shield" to protect the aforementioned “swords”); modernization of the nuclear weapons laboratory infrastructure; and the increasingly demanding problem of nuclear weapons facilities cleanup (e.g. Hanford).  

This bow wave will unfold in the highly evolved nature of the domestic politics driving defense spending -- i.e., the domestic operations of the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex (MICC) -- as I described in The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War.  History shows the golden cornucopia of this nuc "bow wave” of programs will quickly evolve into an unstoppable tsunami of front loaded and politically engineered contracts and subcontracts that will grow over time to overwhelm and paralyze future Presidents and Congresses for the next 20-30 years.*** 

The only way such a modernization program can be justified is to concoct some kind of 21st Century nuclear warfighting scenario and to use the rubric of a new Cold War against a nuclear armed competitor — read Russia or China or both — to terrorize the public into paying the bill.  

Which brings us back to the logic of bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Attached beneath the end notes is Cockburn's** short but incisive interview with Alperovitz.

————
* It is hard to overestimate the immediate and lasting appeal of the government’s line to people of all political persuasions: One of my dearest friends, for example, was an anti-tank gunner in the 95th Infantry Division during WWII.  While in Germany in 1945, he was notified that he would be redeploying to the Pacific for the invasion of Japan.  My friend was an extreme liberal with a WWII enlisted GI's contempt for the conduct of war; he believed the military leadership was incompetent; and that carried over to his vehement opposition to the Viet Nam War.  But 50 years later he still vociferously defended the decision to drop the atomic bombs.  His reasoning was simple and heartfelt and honest: he had enough of fighting the Germans and wanted to go home and be done with the madness.

** Caveat: Andrew Cockburn is a close friend of 35 years, so I am biased. 

***  This kind of budget time bomb has happened at least twice before in the non-nuclear part of the defense budget: The first began when the Nixon-Ford Administration planted the seeds of defense budget hysteria by starting a bow wave of new modernization programs, financed in the short term by readiness and force structure reductions in early-to-mid 1970s.  These reductions led to budget pressures that exploded in the late 1970s and 1980s when President Carter began growing the defense budget and President Reagan accelerated that growth.  The game repeated itself in the late 1980s thru the mid-1990s, when Presidents Bush and Clinton planted the seeds for future budget growth, that would metastasize in the late 1990s. That bow wave was subsequently power boosted and masked somewhat by hysteria accompanying 9-11, but it used the same formula of cutting readiness and force structure in the short term to finance the planting of the bow wave of modernization programs.  And now, history is repeating itself for a third time.  This can be seen in the spate of recent hysterical and misbegotten reports (e.g., typical example) about how the relatively modest budget cutbacks from 2010 in the Pentagon’s "base budget" have caused today’s modernization crises, readiness shortfalls, etc.  Now add the full scale nuclear tsunami to this limited description of the Obama bow wave and the pressure to grow future budgets justified by a new cold war will become unstoppable.


Unjust Cause
Historian Gar Alperovitz on the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki
By Andrew Cockburn, Harpers, 25 May 2016
President Obama is about to visit the Japanese city of Hiroshima, where on August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb that killed 140,000 people. Earlier this month, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes wrote on Medium.com that “the President will shine a spotlight on the tremendous and devastating human toll of war.” But the White House has also made clear that the president has no intention of apologizing. Seventy years after World War II, it seems the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still a matter for evasion, justified by U.S. officials as the only way to end the war and save American lives. If Obama sticks to this script, his speech won’t amount to much more than Donald Rumsfeld’s “stuff happens.” To fill in Obama’s preannounced omissions, I turned to the historian Gar Alperovitz. His 1995 book The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of An American Myth is the most definitive account we are likely to see of why Hiroshima was destroyed, and how an official history justifying that decision was subsequently crafted and promulgated by the national security establishment. As he explained, the bomb not only failed to save Americans lives, it might actually have caused the needless deaths of thousands of U.S. servicemen.
Let’s start with the basic question: was it necessary to drop the bomb on Hiroshima in order to compel Japanese surrender and thereby save American lives?                      
Absolutely not. At least, every bit of evidence we have strongly indicates not only that it was unnecessary, but that it was known at the time to be unnecessary. That was the opinion of top intelligence officials and top military leaders. There was intelligence, beginning in April of 1945 and reaffirmed month after month right up to the Hiroshima bombing, that the war would end when the Russians entered [and that] the Japanese would surrender so long as the emperor was retained, at least in an honorary role. The U.S. military had already decided [it wanted] to keep the emperor because they wanted to use him after the war to control Japan.
Virtually all the major military figures are now on record publicly, most of them almost immediately after the war, which is kind of amazing when you think about it, saying the bombing was totally unnecessary. Eisenhower said it on a number of occasions. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs said it—that was Admiral Leahy, who was also chief of staff to the president. Curtis LeMay, who was in charge of the conventional bombing of Japan, [also said it]. They’re all public statements. It’s remarkable that the top military leaders would go public, challenging the president’s decision within weeks after the war, some within months. Really, when you even think about it, can you imagine it today? It’s almost impossible to think of it.
Had the United States ever wanted the Russians to come in?  ... continued