Category: Foreign Policy (Page 1 of 17)

Before anyone sells you a “short war” with North Korea…

On November 28th, amidst a relative calm, North Korea tested its intercontinental ballistic missile. It was a matter of time, before North Korea managed to develop a system which is capable to reach mainland US. Regardless of whatever Washington might say, North Korea did what it intended to do. They have now successfully demonstrated that their weapons system is capable, and has achieved what we call the minimum credible deterrence, vis a vis an adversary.

There has been a misconception about what North Korea wanted to do. What, for all practical purposes, is the aim of North Korea. The reality has always been, that North Korea wants to survive. The Westphalian state system which ran from the 19th century to 1991, was upended with unipolarity. North Korea internalized the lessons of Saddam, Kosovo, and most importantly Gaddafi. The toppling of these regimes, and the resultant chaos, and the inability of these states to deter any foreign invasion, often at the cost of destruction and personal deaths of the leaders are a stark reminder that there’s no such thing as international order, but simply great power whims. And the recent experience of unipolarity was not uniform.

North Korea’s missile flew around 1000 KM, but went to an altitude of 4500 KM, and stayed up for over 50 mins. The missile trajectory, straight up to the sky instead of angled path shows that it is capable of withstanding enormous atmospheric pressure on reentry. In a normal ballistic missile trajectory, it would cover the continental United States.

The reality has not dawned in Washington, perhaps. Beijing and Moscow understand the fait accompli, but DC is still on with the basest of talking points. That North Korea will never be accepted as a nuclear power (it is), or the fact that North Korean nuclear weapons provide a ready deterrence (it does). The latest salvo comes from Nikki Haley in the United Nations. While she started with long-standing US position of no war with North Korea, she also mentioned that the “North Korean regime would be utterly destroyed” if there were a war between it and the US.

This is not going to happen.

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The Iran protests and American journalistic hackery

Before new years and continuing until the present, Iranians have taken to the streets to demand political and economic reforms. Over 400 protesters have been reportedly arrested and 20 killed. Having cracked down violently on protests in 2009, too, the Iranian government appears to face a crisis of legitimacy.

Much of the commentary from the political right, however, launders the protesters’ real grievances to make partisan political points. Take Fox News opinion columnist Stephen L. Miller (@RedSteeze on Twitter). Yesterday evening (US time), he had published a garden variety “Why aren’t liberal feminists supporting Muslim women in the Middle East?” article.

In this case, the specific language was: “Women are leading in Iran. Where is their voice of support from the left?”

So the question must be asked: Where are the women’s movement supporters in the United States and Europe, which gathered en masse to protest a newly inaugurated American president last year?

The question presumes that a protest in America against Iran’s government would have much influence in toppling Iran’s government. It presumes Americans shouldn’t care about the actions of their own government–or at least shouldn’t care any more about their own government’s actions than they do about those of foreign governments. After all, why should Americans protest bad governance and abuses of power in America if they don’t protest about foreign countries?

The question could be asked about anything. Why hasn’t Stephen L. Miller written anything about North Korea’s human rights abuses lately? Why hasn’t he written about democratic backsliding in Poland and Hungary governments?

Hell, Miller was outraged about the IRS reportedly scrutinizing tax exemption applications from Tea Party groups. Even if a conspiracy against the Tea Party existed (and it didn’t–liberal groups applying for tax exempt status were scrutinized, too, according to an audit conducted years later), would it really be as bad as South African leader Jacob Zuma’s hundreds of crimes of corruption?

One can imagine the story framed in Miller’s terms:
So the question must be asked: Where are the conservatives and Tea Partiers in the United States, which gathered en masse to protest a newly inaugurated American president on Tax Day?

Another cliché gaining being pushed on Iran is the typical: “Why isn’t the media covering this story that I read about in the media?” Stephen Miller wrote on December 30:

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Did the US and Iraq really defeat ISIS? Not so fast.

David French has a piece bemoaning that the Western media hasn’t reported America defeated ISIS in Iraq. Iraqi’s military, with American support, pushed ISIS out of Mosul and most of the area they occupied in Iraq, and now Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory. Iraq’s PM has a clear-self interest to declare victory, but it’s true that ISIS lost ground.

“So why does no one seem to care?” French wrote.

It’s just not that clear of a victory. Iraq remains an unstable, low-quality semi-democracy–the US didn’t accomplish its objectives there–and there’s no reason to believe that Iraq won’t ever be threatened by militants or terrorists again in the near future.

I won’t spend too much time on this, but here are a few relevant sources for why people should not get too excited about what is possibly an incomplete and short-lasting victory:
Iraq’s PM has a clear-self interest to declare victory, but it’s true that ISIS lost ground. – AFP

As Sumantra and I have written for The National Interest,

It is important to remember that the liberation of Mosul is not something to be proud of just yet. Economically, it is a damaged city—in worse condition than Stalingrad or Dresden. Materially, it is a commodity that nobody wishes to touch. Strategically, it is important—but that too is a curse, as it’s almost inevitable that a backlash will transpire, and Sunni civilians will suffer.

Unfortunately, Mosul is only one among many cities on the fault line of what increasingly appears to be an Iranian race to form a land bridge to the Mediterranean against periodic Sunni opposition. People will continue to suffer. Iraq’s central government is not, and will not be, capable of continuing to safeguard the area from falling further into the hands of jihadists. And the flawed counterinsurgency tactics of the West mean that the jihadist threat will merely go dormant until the next opportune moment.

Read our full article: Winning the hearts and minds won’t eliminate ISIS

Trump campaigns for himself in speech to Korean legislature

Donald Trump can’t help but brag and campaign to an American audience in any speech he gives abroad.

The latest victims of Trump’s egotism were Korean legislators who heard him speak to their chamber. After going over the inspiring history of Korea’s development, Trump pivoted to one of his favorite topics:

Like Korea, and since my election exactly one year ago today, I celebrate with you.

The awkward syntax makes it seem like he only has been celebrating Korea’s success since his election. Probably he meant to say “since I read a one-page briefing a few days ago.”

Either way, he went on:

The United States is going through something of a miracle itself. Our stock market is at an all-time high. Unemployment is at a 17-year low. We are defeating ISIS. We are strengthening our judiciary, including a brilliant Supreme Court justice, and one and on and on.

That Trump’s overbearing language has become routine shouldn’t make it anymore acceptable. Miracle? Yahoo Finance’s Myles Udland reports, “The U.S. economy added 261,000 jobs in October… … Economists were looking for job gains of 313,000… … Wage gains in October were disappointing…”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie was attacking the economic conditions in Virginia in a race that he lost by nine, a referendum on Trumpism.

The stock market numbers and unemployment rate have been on long-term trajectories, of course. Unemployment has declined from 9% in 2010 to 7.9% in 2013, 5.7% in 2015, 4.8% at the start of 2017, and 4.1% now, and Trump hasn’t enacted any major economic policies in his ten months as president.

The mention of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch is most insulting of all to Korean lawmakers, who have justices of their own to approve. Gorsuch is a qualified profession, as are the other eight justices on the Supreme Court, and there’s no reason he merits mention whatsoever in Korea.

But it’s a long-standing tendency of his to go off on brazen, self-congratulatory tangents at what are supposed to be speeches about serious international issues.

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Exclusive paper: Is fear of ISIS rational? A statistical analysis

In the context of ongoing discussion over whether or not publics in the world are rational in their views on terrorism, this analytical commentary uses data about fatalities from terrorist attacks and results of a Pew Research Center global survey on public attitudes to assess whether concern about ISIS tracks with the threat ISIS has posed to countries. This analysis found that concern about ISIS in most regions of the world tracked with both fatalities caused by all terrorism and fatalities caused by ISIS specifically. Globally, concern about ISIS in a country showed the strongest correlation with fatalities caused by ISIS. The publics of particular countries that faced divergent threat levels from ISIS-affiliated terrorists and non-ISIS-affiliated terrorists also showed the ability to distinguish between the different threats. The results indicate that publics are not, in general, extremely irrational.

My commentary on public opinion and ISIS has been published at the Central European Journal of International and Security Studies. Read my CEJISS commentary here.

Are public fears about ISIS rational? A detailed global survey released by the Pew Research Center found ISIS is the issue the world’s people are most concerned about in a plurality of countries surveyed. Across 38 countries, 62 percent of the world is concerned about ISIS, narrowly surpassing climate change as the top issue[1].

This has caused some to suggest that the public’s fear of ISIS is irrational. Michael Cruickshank wrote, “Crazy how irrationally afraid people are off ISIS. Shows how effective their propaganda is”[2]. It’s true that everyday risks like car crashes and murders by common criminals are bigger threats for ordinary people[3][4], but the impact of intentional, targeted attacks on civilizational values causes a bigger fear impact in many people’s minds[5]. Whether or not that is “rational” per se is a question for psychologists and philosophers and others to debate some other day. Instead I shall undertake to assess whether, within the confines of human psychology, the relative risk assessments of various countries are in line with the threat posed to those countries by ISIS.

This analysis focuses on concern about ISIS, as registered in the survey; fatalities caused by terrorism within each country, as tracked by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism’s (START, at the University of Maryland) Global Terrorism Database; and fatalities caused by ISIS, also tracked by START’s database. The results were predictable: there were generally positive correlations between a country’s exposure to fatalities caused by terrorism and that country’s concern about ISIS. There were also some notable departures from correlation, which showed many publics are attuned to specific regional dynamics.

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Q+A with Dr Jacqueline L. Hazelton, Asst Prof at the Naval War College

For over a decade, United States and NATO have been involved in counter-insurgency operations across the Islamic world. A new ground breaking paper by Dr. Jacqueline Hazelton, challenges the established COIN dogma, and suggests that the usual operational process of good governance, democracy promotion, nation building, and dependence on human rights, are actually counter-productive.

In simpler words, perhaps more brutality is needed to actually win a war. 

To explain further, Dr Hazelton kindly agreed to answer a few questions for Bombs + Dollars on US COIN operations, grand strategy, and what changes might be needed urgently to re-calibrate a failed Western counter-insurgency strategy.

You can follow her on Twitter @DrJLHazelton.

You can also find other Q+As here.

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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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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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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

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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