Archive for March, 2011

Libya Class Discussion – Extra Credit

Watching the unfolding events in Libya recently seems like watching a seesaw.  The diagram presented in class showing the strongholds of both the government and the rebel troops over the course of less than two weeks shows how fractured the conflict truly is.  There are struggles for power in different towns and cities on a daily basis and I would not be willing to place a high stakes bet on an outcome right now, especially with the lack of information available in the media.  That said, with Western intervention, I believe the rebels will eventually be successful in their overthrowing of Gaddafi.  Despite their disorganized nature and a lack of formal communication, the rebel movement appears, in respect to the media, to be a fairly widespread force of momentum.  Also, in recent events, the series of defections strongly implies a weak support for Gaddafi’s government and a weaker grasp of political control for proponents.  Lastly, as stated in class, it would be very interesting to listen to President Obama’s daily briefings to see what the intelligence and analysis indicates/indicated and to fully understand what ultimately led to United States intervention.

– Patrick

Should we go to war with allies?

Wherein your humble Professor tries to take on the NYT’s David Brooks.

Here’s what Brooks says:

Here’s what I say:

What do YOU (really) think?

Mexican Population Unhappy With Current Policies

A recent poll done by the Mexico City polling group Demotecnia revealed the discontent among the Mexican population with its current status as a victim to the drug war. 59% said that the country is as bad or worse off than when Calderon took office in 2006, and another 59% felt that the drug traffickers were had the upper hand over the government in the conflict.  When asked whether or not Calderon had a firm grip on the control of the country, 67% reported that they felt matters were out of his control.  Even more frustration arises among the Mexican population because of a lack of a better alternative.  Whether or not these sentiments reflect the reality of the progress of Calderon’s war on drugs, the majority of Mexican citizens  are extremely dissatisfied.

This is a huge discovery because in order to win this war, the people must trust and support their government.  The drug cartels thrive on vulnerability among the population to win new supporters, and this is more likely if the Mexican people are not believing in their government’s policies.  The government must aim to steal support from the cartels, but current strategies are only creating an opportunity for strengthening the drug gangs.


“Kill Team” Undermines Effort in Afghanistan

The Rolling Stone recently released a lengthy, detailed article coupled with gruesome images that implicate at least twelve American soldiers in Afghanistan for involvement in multiple cases of intentional murder and dismemberment of innocent Afghan civilians.
Although this case is extreme and most likely uncharacteristic of the majority of American forces in Afghanistan, it illustrates multiple difficulties that the American military faces.
The article illustrates that American soldiers in Afghanistan are suffering from low morale. Originally, the unit was excited about being able to use the advanced technology of eight-wheeled armored vehicles against the Taliban. However, the increased use of IEDs by the Taliban forced the soldiers off the roads after inflicting heavy casualties. As a result, “the soldiers were bored and shellshocked and angry.” They were originally assigned to track down the Taliban, but they could not locate Taliban members. This increased frustrations, causing soldiers to lash out violently.
In addition, such acts are counterproductive to the implementation of the counterinsurgency strategy. Counterinsurgency focuses upon winning over the hearts and minds by protecting the population. If American troops kill local civilians, this will result in a strategic loss.
The article also stated that many people in the unit disliked the Afghan people. They failed to identify with the locals, calling them savages. Such animosity impedes the efficacy of the counterinsurgency strategy, and in this case has caused American soldiers to target the Afghan people.
Although the Army leadership allegedly knew of the killings, whether through word of mouth or through pictures, nothing was reported. Before the crimes became public, the Pentagon attempted to suppress the photos at all levels to prevent a scandal such as Abu Ghraib. As of March 17th, two-thirds of Americans believe that the war is no longer worth fighting, and three-quarters believe that Obama should begin withdrawing a “substantial number” of troops this summer. Since the scandal is now public, public discontent with the war could potentially influence the future withdrawal date of American troops.

Libya to Stall Defense Cuts?

Just as major advancements were made in the debate on defense spending cuts, the United States entered into the Libyan conflict to enforce a no-fly zone. A consensus in military budget cuts has been hard to sell since the US is in two major wars, however because it has decided to enter into Libya in favor of the resistance, the US is going to have an even harder time scaling back the budget. Josh Holly, House Armed Services Committee’s communications director, stated that “This would be one of those examples that can be used to buttress his argument that now is not the time for deep cuts in defense not being properly positioned to deal with the contingencies that might be on the horizon, whether that be a modernizing military in China or (a military action) in Libya.”

However, there are many opinions on defense spending reductions. Some members of Congress feel that the deficit is so bad that immediate cuts are needed in order to save the country. Other members believe that because America has just entered into the Libyan conflict that now is not the time to discuss military budget reductions.

I believe that the wisest course of action Americans can take right now is to pass a budget for 2011 that keeps the defense budget stagnant. Because we have decided to enter into Libya, the United States cannot afford to cut its defense budget this year. If the United States is to not pass a budget that compensates for its entry into the Libyan conflict, the United States could hyper-extend its resources.


Protests in Syria

As of March 27th, 2011 there have been twenty seven confirmed deaths related to the protests in Syria since they had begun on March 15th.  Syria’s civil unrest has been the result of a rising anti-government sentiment being shared throughout the Middle East towards rulers in power.  “Activists have put the death toll at more than 126, with upwards of 100 killed on Wednesday alone in a bloody crackdown on protests in Daraa, the southern tribal town that has become the symbol of the protests.”  The Syrian government, while not as extreme as what has been seen in Libya, has still taken a firm stance against the protests and have suppressed much of the political opposition.  That said, in an effort to appease much of the protesters, the government has released 260 political prisoners and has announced plans for reforms.  While the news about the protests have reached the rest of the world as an overwhelming population being opposed to the government in power, there have been pro-government counter-protests whose proponents have claimed have been underexposed in the media.

The Middle East is fascinatingly chaotic this year with a domino-like effect occurring throughout the region with indiscernible outcomes.  With Western intervention in Libya, and the possibility of escalation in different regions, when will it be deemed appropriate to become involved in such internal conflicts?  One thing to be taken into account is the different types of governments in power.  Libya’s leadership has displayed extremely radical counter measures to an uprising and the results have been very violent.  I am not sure whether other countries would reach a point of full scale civil war, but I think it would be inappropriate to lump all the countries in the region together in a causation principle that rings true for the entire Middle East.  Each country should be treated as a separate case in which          there are different cultural and structural aspects that will have an impact on the course the citizens and governments of the countries will take.  It will be interesting to see how events will continue to unfold in the region.

–         Patrick

President Obama’s Speech on Libya

President Obama addressed the American people on Monday night in an effort to explain the United States’ mission and involvement in Libya.  Throughout the speech he stressed America’s limited intervention, and the fact that this will be an international effort.  In my opinion he outlined a series of arguments for why the United States needed to get involved.  First, he discussed the prospect of the violence and refugees in Libya spreading to already “fragile countries” like Tunisia and Egypt.  Second, he stressed the United States’ need to get involved on a purely humanitarian basis.  Third, he noted that if the United States had not become involved then we would have justified other repressive dictatorships who want to “clamp down” on the protests.  Fourth, he argued that if the United States had not supported the United Nations then that international body would have lost some of its legitimacy and power.

In addition to the political justification for involving the United States in Libya, Obama outline one main military objective.  Throughout the speech he noted that the United States military’s mission was to stop the killing of innocent Libyans.  First, through instituting a no-fly zone, the international community would be able to control the air space and make sure that Gadaffi did not kill his people from the air.  Second, by bombing key targets the United States would be able to demobilize some of the troops and political figures that had turned on the Libyan people.

While I doubt that the United States can stay detached from the other crises that are emerging in countries like Bahrain and Yemen, I think that Obama laid out logical arguments for our involvement.  I also think that his military objective was somewhat confining for any future American action.  He proclaimed that the United States had stopped the killings, and it will be interesting to see how much longer the United States will stay involved in the effort.


Simeone Lecture Extra Credit

While I agree with Monique that a lot of the lecture was difficult to unpack and apply, I did find one of Simeone’s points relevant for US interests.  He mentioned that many democracies that are friendly to international law begin to consult the decisions of other nations’ high courts in making their own decisions.  This could be an excellent benefit for the US.  By exerting a sort of soft power through Supreme Court decisions, the US can serve as a moral leader while exerting far fewer resources than we currently do.  With a stable legal background a wide array of precedents, using the Supreme Court as international leadership could be extremely beneficial for fostering transitioning democracies abroad.

North Korea Smug Over Libyan Intervention

Last week, the government-run North Korean news agency denounced US intervention in Libya and claimed that Gaddafi had been “duped” into a program of disarmament that is now contributing to his government’s demise.  The foreign minister making the announcement claimed that North Korea’s pursuit of a powerful military was “proper in a thousand ways.”  A professor at Korea University cites that Libya is the third example in the last 20 years where North Korea has felt vindicated in its refusal to disarm.  When the USSR faced economic collapse if they continued to keep pace with American military spending, they capitulated and the union eventually broke up.  In 2003, Saddam Hussein’s decision to allowed UN monitors to search for WMDs eventually led to American intervention and Hussein’s death.

With these feelings of paranoia and vindication, North Korea will be even less likely to adhere to Western desires.  Whether or not they truly believe that these incidents were US-backed conspiracies, they have now used them as justification to continue their nuclear program.  When the US or the West tries to engage in talks in the near future, North Korea will point to these three examples and claim they are trying to avoid the fates of the USSR, Iraq and now Libya.


Chinese Make History in Naval Escort; Vessels Continue to be Pirated

The Chinese Navy made history, from March 22-25, during the escort of a World Food Programme vessel from Berbera to Bosasso, cities located on the Gulf of Aden in northern Somalia. According to the EUNAVFOR public affairs office, the Chinese Navy has been in direct contact with COMEUNAVFOR regarding information and coordination to escort merchant vessels in the area.

This is an important step in bringing in international cooperation between the European Union and nations of other continents to keep global trade from slowing and protect the lives of the crews. But will having more ships present in the area really provide better security? And how does COMEUNAVFOR decide which vessels should be provided escorts? The idea is solid and it should not be overlooked that EUNAVFOR is recruiting more nations to help patrol the area and is committed to limiting and preventing pirate attacks.

An article published just three hours later than the previous one discussed concerns the pirating of another vessel in the eastern part of the Gulf of Aden. It was reported that two skiffs attacked the vessel with RPGs and small arms. There was a 29 member crew on board, with no news from them as of yet.

Although it seems like pirate attacks are happening more frequently, most of the attacks that do not result in the capture of a vessel go unnoticed. There are many more attacks and attempted boardings as is recorded in EUNAVFOR’s weekly piracy attack updates. Many of the merchant vessels, which repel the attackers, were able to do so successfully by an armed force on the vessel. The weaknesses of EUNAVFOR have been shown in the impossibility of covering a vast expanse of open ocean. Arming merchant vessels traveling in dangerous waters or having hired security aboard would greatly reduce the amount of successful pirate attacks. The armed ships might also be a deterrent to any potential aggressor. However, this might cause an increased violence in pirate attacks if they become aware of the more dangerous circumstances the pirates would encounter.

Chinese Navy:

Captured Ship:

Weekly Piracy Report:


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