Month: September 2017

Incheon, 1950: Where the freedom of 50 million stood in balance

One of the most daring amphibious military operations in human history took place 57 years ago this month, between 15 and 19 September, with 70,000 UN combatants going into harm’s way that day. Few amphibious operations surpass the Incheon Landing-sure one can point to D-Day on Normandy in Northern France, but that was years in the planning and preparation and at the close of the most costly, bloody, and horrendous war in human history with 160,000 allied troops going to do battle with the Nazis. The Incheon Landing was done on the fly-12 weeks after North Korean forces had pushed South Korean (ROK) forces all the way to the tiny and isolated Pusan Perimeter, encapsulating said city of Pusan (Busan)-we had US boots on the ground giving then leader (ostensibly not yet “eternal”) Kim Il-sung hell served up with all the tenderness, tact and civility that US Marines are world renowned for. 

As a prior service US Marine, I can attest to the importance that the United States Marine Corps places on her history in regards to the Korean Conflict, and the Incheon Landing is definitely a large part of Marine Corps lore. In boot camp, we had these small green binders that a recruit could fit into their cargo pockets (and we DID, mostly out of requirement) called “The Big Green Monster.”  We ran around the recruit depot for three months carrying that thing in our cargo pockets. In it were uniform regulations, advise on how to live in the new culture that we found ourselves in-and Marine Corps history. The Korean Conflict and the Incheon Landing were among those events that made those books thick. 

General Douglass MacArthur was quick thinking in assuming that he could effectively dissect the Korean Peninsula, thereby bringing relief to Pusan Perimeter. One of our most firebrand generals who exhibited his own unique brand of compassion-once calling the Filipinos (Pinoys) his “little brown friends,” he also recommended “strategic nuking” of key cities along the coast of the Peoples’ Republic of China in order to bring about a swift end to the Korean Conflict. Love him or hate him Stateside, it is hard to find a detractor of him on the ROK where people live in freedom thanks to UN actions and MacArthur wit and US optimism. 

There is a huge monument in front of the main gate leading to Suwon AFB about an hour south of Seoul that proudly proclaims, “We defend the freedom of 50 million people!” Had it not been for the Incheon Landing, those 50 million would probably be living under the all-encompassing tyranny of Kim Il-sung’s grandson.

Feature photo of First Lieutenant Baldomero Lopez scaling the seawall. Lopez, who would give his life in the Battle of Incheon, was awarded a Medal of Honor posthumously. Photo by a fellow Marine, public domain.

Trump’s UN Speech: Make Nation-States Great Again

Donald Trump made his UN debut last week with a speech that it is fair to say will be remembered for a long time. To say that people didn’t know what to expect may perhaps not be completely accurate. Many surely expected the usual bluster and bombast, leavened with a dose of the usual Trumpian bon mots and hyperbole. As it turned out, there was more substance to the speech than many expected, whether they agreed with that substance or not. There was also the small matter of threatening to nuke North Korea back to the Stone Age.

Trump opened with mention of the hurricanes that had battered Texas and Florida, thanking those leaders who had aided America or offered to do so. This was the usual diplomatic play-nice language to lay the ground for the rest of the speech. This was followed by a celebration of the successes of the American people and economy since Trump’s election, with mention of the stock market performance, employment growth, companies moving back and another massive increase in military spending to the tune of $700 billion. At least in this regard, Trump is a perfectly conventional US president, as apparently the way to win wars is to buy one’s way to victory.

Trump also covered the positive steps forward in science, technology and medicine that are undoubtedly revolutionising everything about our lives around the world today, whether for good or ill it is hard to know. He then moved onto the obstacles in the way of this Whiggish path of history, describing the threats to the world that include terrorism, extremism and rogue regimes; authoritarian powers getting too uppity for their own good; international crime networks; drug, weapons and people trafficking; mass migration and new technology in the hands of anyone with the know-how and the wherewithal to use it for their own nefarious ends.

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Mafia Don: Trump as an Amoral Familist

Donald Trump’s presidency has been so strange it has caused columnists around the world to try to conceive of new frameworks to explain politics. But what if what is needed is really an old framework? In 1955, Edward C. Banfield visited a village in Southern Italy and described a dysfunctional politics based on the pursuit of personal and family profit above all else. He called the practitioners of this anti-social morality “amoral familists.” It was the behavior of the mafia and it is the behavior of Donald Trump and his cronies.

The amoral familist will, “Maximize the material, short-run advantage of the nuclear family” and “assume that all others will do likewise,” Banfield wrote. Trump has appointed his daughter and son-in-law into White House positions and put his two sons in charge of his business empire. The Trump administration has used official outlets to hawk his family’s products and has raked in cash from foreign diplomats staying at his DC hotel in the hopes of influencing him.

The effects of this lack of character and the assumption that all others lack character as well corrode to the core of a political system. Banfield noted how the locals in the small town had no trust in politics, and as such, no one trustworthy ran for office, and no one trusted the government to solve their problems. “[N]o one will further the interest of the group or community except as it is to his private advantage to do so.”

Banfield noted an additional 17 points that describe specific things one would expect to see in a society of amoral familists. It is worrying how many appear in Donald Trump’s United States in varying degrees.

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Let’s be prudent about Myanmar

I wrote a recent piece in The Federalist on the hysteric Western liberal media coverage of the Rohingya crisis is looking very similar to the ones during the early days of Libyan and Syrian civil wars. Naturally, the reaction to that, was…let’s say…quite extreme.

Anyway, here’s what we are seeing now. the same appeal to emotions, same arguments of ethnic cleansing, and genocide, without any understanding of the history and context of the crisis. It will soon lead to arguments of regime change, and sanctions, if UN peacekeepers. And it is specifically for that reason, every neighbouring country should be wary of the situation in Myanmar.

With more than 310,000 people having fled to Bangladesh in recent weeks, there are daily reports of violence in Myanmar border. The UNHRC, which bizarrely had Saudi Arabia as a chair, of all countries, noted that Myanmar is apparently having an ethnic cleansing. An official was quoted by Guardian, saying, “I call on the government to end its current cruel military operation, with accountability for all violations that have occurred, and to reverse the pattern of severe and widespread discrimination against the Rohingya population.”

The Rohingya issue is not new. It originates from the forced demographic change during the British times, when the northern Myanmar was socially engineered by the British colonial governance, to provide for cheap labour. It created centuries of sectarian tension and separatism, and worse, anti-Burmese violence in the 40s and 50s. Over 50000 Myanmar Buddhists were killed in the 1940s, a wound that still lives in Myanmar. Recently, since the 1980s, the Rohingya separatism, acquired an Islamist character. It is important to note that there’s a huge connection between Islamists in North India, and Xinjiang, and Rohingya and the Moro Liberation front. While most of these groups started with political or economic demands, over time, they have acquired a religious character which cannot be negotiated with.

It is in this time, the latest Rohingya crisis started.

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Cynicism & Salvation: A Response to Suketu Mehta on Immigration

“You owe us and you need us” is the message of Suketu Mehta’s Foreign Policy article on immigration. While I think his piece is vindictive, condescending, illogical and often uninformed it is refreshingly blunt.

Let us step back for a moment. In these arguments it is tempting to bracket people as “pro” and “anti” immigration. I am not anti-immigration. I think some measure of movement makes cultural, economic and humanitarian sense. (I am an immigrant as well, though I would have argued the same before leaving England.) What I do oppose – and have opposed, and will continue to oppose – is mass immigration on a reckless, utopian scale that ignores tradition, prudence and the popular will. Mr Mehta disregards them, and does so with some contempt.

The headline and the illustration are, well, illustrative. “This Land is Their Land”, booms the former. Not even our land. Theirs. The illustration depicts migrants in a rowing boat, clutching The Stars and the Stripes. (Are they crossing the Atlantic?) A man holds a child while a woman wearing a hijab looks across the sea with a determined expression. I do not think I am being cynical if I suggest that this is an unrealistic portrayal of a Middle Eastern family.

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Memories of 9/11

When the editor of Bombs + Dollars heard that planes had crashed into the World Trade Towers, he knew it would change the world and affect his future path. A retrospective from 2014 on 9/11 and ISIS, originally published at China.org.cn.

I was in class in middle school when there was an announcement over the loudspeaker that airplanes had struck the World Trade Center towers in New York. The principal used delicate language when addressing the students, but I knew it was an attack. Commercial airline pilots don’t hit skyscrapers by accident. The rest of the day was surreal. Rumors circulated that a hijacked plane was heading towards my hometown, Cleveland, Ohio, but it turned out to be a false alarm. Even after watching the images on TV when I got home from school, the magnitude of the attacks was hard to comprehend.

It was like life stood still for the next week. All news was 9/11 all the time. The National Football League and Major League Baseball canceled all sporting events that week. I went to the Cleveland Browns game the next weekend. I remember the patriotic songs they played all throughout the game. “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free…” Lee Greenwood’s song became familiar at sporting events and was inserted into the seventh inning stretch at baseball games. Using the restroom, I could hear the guy next to me saying we were going to get bin Laden.

If seeing 3,000 of our fellow countrymen murdered in broad daylight and landmarks of New York City’s skyline disappeared from the sky wasn’t enough, the rest of the year featured anthrax letters and an attempted shoe bombing by Richard Reid. “Panic” might not be the right word — the threat posed by international terrorist organizations was real — but there were major changes made to people’s lives that seem unnecessary in today’s light. A school field trip to Washington, DC was canceled. Many Americans weren’t traveling anywhere, let alone to the capital.

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Korean Security Chat, II: Time to strike North Korea

“The only practical solution we have got is to make a first strike.”

Mitchell Blatt and Daniel Kim chat about North Korea’s sixth nuclear test and how this changes things.

Daniel Kim has served as an artillery man and an interpreter in the Republic of Korea Army and is currently enrolled at Eastern Washington University where he is majoring in interdisciplinary studies. He will be joining B+D on a regular basis to discuss Korea issues. Mitchell Blatt is a founder and editor of Bombs + Dollars and is pursuing a degree in International Relations at Johns Hopkins University.

Mitchell Blatt: So let’s start with the biggest news of the year: North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test. This time it was a hydrogen bomb over 100 kilotons. That’s over 10 times as large as the last bomb it tested. Ankit Panda and Vipin Narang write in War on the Rocks that North Korea is now a nuclear power. Are they right?

Daniel Kim: Apparently yes. However, no country is gonna accept them as an official nuclear power.

MB: Have they proven they have an ICBM capable of hitting the mainland United States? Do they have the reentry vehicle?
DK: It is still questionable, though, I’m sure they can hit US soil. They have successfully completed hydrogen bomb. I don’t think that they won’t be able to develop a capable ICBM, if they haven’t already. (Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon says they might launch one at full range on Saturday.)

This reckless action wont help North Korea at all. Although almost every major American media outlet, even the Wall Street Journal, a conservative newspaper, is bugging Trump a lot, there is one thing they don’t really argue with him on. It is North Korea.

Trump may end up being the worst president in history, but I guarantee that he won’t let America get hit by external forces.

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Putting terrorist threats in perspective: Numbers and Charts

The far-right group National Action was banned at the end of 2016, after the murder of Jo Cox MP in June by a far-right terrorist. They were your classic neo-Nazis: hatred of Jews, hatred of non-whites, hatred of homosexuals. They paraded around towns in black clothes, (sound similar to a certain US street politics movement?) scarves covering their lower faces, bearing banners that praised Hitler. So, not fine people.

Then came news that a cell of National Action members, all in their early 20’s and 30’s, had been arrested under Britain’s terrorism act. They had been arrested on suspicion of the ‘commission, preparation and instigation of acts of terrorism’. What was more disturbing was the fact that they were all enlisted n the Royal Anglian regiment of the British Army. No one knows if they’re part of a larger network operating under the radar in the UK’s military. Nevertheless, the idea that these men, who believe in the words and deed of Adolf Hitler, were fighting for Queen and Country is unsettling, to say the least.

While bearing in mind the reality that the numbers of far-right extremists who are entered into the government’s Prevent counter-radicalisation programme has recently seen a rise of 30% to over 500 cases, up from a quarter in 2015, it is important to also bear in mind that the numbers of Islamists still far-outweigh those of the far-right.

There are 35,000 Islamist extremists in the UK; 17,393 in France; 24,400 in Germany; 5,000 in Spain; 18,884 in Belgium. That adds up to around 100, 677 Islamist extremists in Western Europe. This is a huge number of people who to a greater or lesser extent believe in a utopian doctrine that inspires them to see their vision of a worldwide Caliphate fall over the earth through separatist and sectarian activism and terrorist action. We have seen the results of this in the carnage over the last two and a half years.

As of United States, the data is far clearer.

Yes, the far-right may be rising in numbers, but the threat from Islamism still far surpasses it.

 

Ian Bremmer on North Korean nuclear test and trade deal withdrawal

“China would be the big winner.”

North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test, using a weapon it said was missile-ready that made a blast over 100 kilotons in magnitude, its biggest yet. Yesterday, it was also reported that Donald Trump is ready to pull out of the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement, news which editor Mitch Blatt commented on. Following are links and comments from others about the implications:

Ian Bremmer:

“Timing is more important here, given the economic pressure on South Korea from Beijing and the challenges of the North Korea conflict,” Bremmer said. “China would be the big winner, with [South] Korean president Moon [Jae-in] harder pressed to maintain present levels of security cooperation with the United States. If China is your key economic partner, there’s a lot less reason to listen to Washington.”

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham: “I am 100 percent certain that if Kim Jong-un continues to develop missile technology, that if diplomacy fails, there will be an attack by the United States against his weapons systems. I’m assuming the worst…”
BBC interview

Harry Kazianis:

My assessment is that Kim does not yet have an operational H-Bomb, but is doing what he always does—proving to the world he has the resources, technology and capability to deploy a powerful nuclear deterrent. But he could have taken an important first step towards testing a viable design.

What is to be done?

As a first step, it’s time to pull out all the stops to make sure we restrict the amount of financial resources going into North Korea and make it as hard as possible for Kim to build up his nuclear program and H-bomb designs…

Leif-Eric Easley, Foreign Policy: North Korea’s Nuclear Tests and Missile Tests Are Aimed at Splitting Its Rivals

James Palmer, Foreign Policy: North Korean Nuclear Test Spites Both Washington and Beijing

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