New Age Islam Edit Bureau
16 November 2017
The Kurdish Dream Is Now Closer To Reality
By Adnan Hussein
What Hariri Has Exposed Is An Axis Of Resistance
By Mashari Althaydi
How The Middle East Could Go The Way Of The Balkans
By Maria Dubovikova
Saudi Arabia Believes In Peace, But Its Red Lines Must Not Be Crossed
By Fahad Nazer
Criticizing Israel Is Not Anti-Semitism (Just Ask Prince Charles)
By Ray Hanania
Mugabe: Between The Wife And The Loyal Lieutenant
By Alex Magaisa
The Truth Behind The US Show Of Force In Asia
By Peter Apps
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
15 November 2017
I do not think that the consequences of holding a referendum over the right of self-determination in the Kurdistan region and disputed lands have pushed the dream of Kurdish independence far as some analysts are saying.
Before the referendum day on September 25, the Kurdish dream was not close to becoming a reality so how can it become far from achieving now? The governments of Iraq, Iran and Turkey have agreed on punishing the Kurds for practicing their freedom of expression regarding their future, imposed a siege on them and deployed Iraqi federal forces in all disputed lands and on land and air border crossings.
For a whole century, this dream remained captive of the international formula which was formed during World War I and after it. This formula divided Middle Eastern countries among colonial empires and left the Kurds divided between four countries, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. They are not allowed to be united. Arabs were also divided among 20 countries and they’re also not allowed to be united.
This formula has not changed today as the Middle East in the second decade of the 21st century is not that different from the second decade of the 20th century.
The only difference for Iraq’s Kurds is that their peaceful and armed fight to get their national identity and administrative and political rights recognized has resulted in an incomplete autonomy that they only enjoyed a little during the era of Saddam Hussein who sought to impose his domination by using chemical weapons and resorting to mass graves. Later, during the disturbed post-Saddam era, there was an incomplete federalism which was also unstable.
The Main Excuse
Although it seems like another relapse for the dream of Kurdish independence, the uncalculated measures which the Iraqi government took may have repercussions that contradict with the main excuse stated to justify these measures, and which is protecting Iraq’s unity. A state’s unity can only be maintained via the unity of all the society’s components, whether ethnic, religious, sectarian or political.
It seems the Iraqi government’s measures against the Kurds may push them, and may particularly push the new generations who lived away from Baghdad’s authority and influence for over 25 years, to take an extremist stance either under the umbrella of nationalist movements or within the context of Islamist movements.
In the past, the Kurdish cultural and political elite knew Arabic very well and many of its members lived and learnt Arabic language and literature in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. Notable intellectuals wrote books while in these cities and contributed to the Iraqi cultural scene.
Many Kurds were also involved in national political work (such as in the Communist Party, the National Democratic Party and others). The Kurdish national movement which operated inside Arab cities was also part of the Iraqi national movement which mainly opposed the Iraqi governments’ policies, including the policy towards the Kurds and their cause.
Now, however, it’s very rare to find a Kurdish from the new generation who knows the Arabic language or who visited Baghdad, Basra or other cities. They did not visit any of these cities for security reasons and also because there’s no need to. This was one of the main reasons behind the overwhelming result of the recent referendum as more than 90 percent of the voters backed the right of self-determination and independence.
The current Iraqi regime did not pay attention to this aspect. Therefore, the measures which the Iraqi government took after the referendum seemed like a collective punishment against the Kurds. There are fears that this may help with the emergence of extremist nationalist movements which neither Masoud Barzani nor any other Kurdish leader can control of curb.
The measures taken against the Kurds were taken under the excuse of protecting Iraq’s unity. However, Arab chauvinist parties, which are this time Islamic (both Sunni and Shiite) and not traditional nationalist ones like Baathists, found in these measures and in the Iraqi government’s stance regarding the referendum a golden opportunity to launch a hate campaign against the Kurds.
This campaign went as far as publicly resorting to traditional media outlets and social media platforms to urge launching a war against the Kurds, invading their cities and areas and weakening their leaders.
A successful and clever politician is he who does not get dragged behind “the masses” which are often influenced by the theory of the herd. He is one who leads people by convincing them of what he thinks is the right decision to achieve balanced interests in the society. Securing these interests is the task of politicians, particularly of statesmen.
I can almost assert that the government’s rhetoric and the political rhetoric in general, which are directed against the Kurds amid this referendum-related crisis, did not succeed in convincing any Kurd of the federal government’s stance and its measures. This rhetoric rather seemed hostile, arrogant and personal and it’s kind of naïve to think that this rhetoric and these measures can convince Iraq’s Kurds to give up on their historical dream and return to the “marital dwelling.”
By resorting to this rhetoric and policy, we have pushed the Kurds further from this “dwelling” and pushed them to further adhere to their legitimate right which may not need another 100 years to be achieved.
“Everybody, I’m doing very well and in God’s will I’ll be back in a couple of days… let’s all calm down. My family is in its country, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom of goodness.”
This was the resigned Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s comment on Twitter on Tuesday. Hariri’s tweet came after the first televised interview, with Future TV, after his famous resignation. It was a resignation that created big ripples in the stagnant Lebanese political waters.
During the interview, presenter Paula Yacoubian reflected on all Lebanese media claims, the cons before the pros, about the myths of Hariri’s resignation, which were ignited by Hassan Nasrallah, the Free Patriotic Movement, Berri’s group and the like.
As we said in the previous article, Nasrallah’s group, and those allied with them, instead of discussing the core of Hariri’s resignation and the reason behind it, “changed” the subject to the form and place of Hariri’s resignation.
Even after Hariri’s interview with Paula Yacoubian, Lebanese media correspondents insisted on “chewing” on media illusion tablets again, questioning the reporter who interviewed the man and questioned him about most of the accusations of fictional conspiracies in the Lebanese media.
However, the person who spoke to the interviewer upon her return at Beirut airport insisted that Hariri was not at his house, but somewhere else and that we don’t know where this “somewhere” is! Yet the presenter swore that she interviewed Hariri at his home with his family where with the team they ate dinner at his table!
Imagine that we have come to this point of trivial details. All of this is an escape by Nasrallah’s team and his allies from discussing the original point of this issue. This is the point that Hariri has focused on time and time again during his interview, and that is: The fate of the Lebanese state, which some of its leaders want to accept its harmful reality. A reality that there is a state, controlled by a party or terrorist organization, killing and training killers in Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait, al-Qatif ... and of course Syria and Iraq.
That is the question ... Hezbollah’s weapon and role in our region. The end of an era of lies and procrastination with this destructive reality. That in itself is beneficial to Lebanonrather than its neighbors, because it is for Lebanon.
The current situation is that this media delinquency in Lebanon, not all of it, is eye-catching. Despite all the facts and evidence before us, there is in this media someone who is running in the valleys of ignorance and illusion, spreading lies, then believing it and then forcing others to believe it too!
The reason behind Hariri’s resignation is the issue, not any other story, and this collective, emotional scramble will not do anything to change the subject.
The current status of the Middle East is similar to that of the Balkans in the years before the World War I. Are we going to witness a Balkanization of the region — geopolitical fragmentation caused by other countries’ foreign policies? And what are the chances of an Iranian-Arab war or a Shiite-Sunni conflict that could lead to the redrawing of the Middle East map?
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said a ballistic missile fired at Riyadh this month from Houthi militia-held territory in Yemen was supplied by Iran, and described it as “direct military aggression” and an “act of war.” The accusation was repeated by the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in his resignation statement: “Iran controls the region and the decision-making in both Syria and Iraq. I want to tell Iran and its followers that it will lose in its interventions in the internal affairs of Arab countries.” He specifically blamed Iran for interference in the affairs of Lebanon.
Saudi rhetoric aimed at Iran has escalated in the past few weeks, and Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir accused Tehran of being behind all evil acts in the region. “The Iranian terror continues to terrorize the innocent, kill children and violate international law, and every day it is clear that the Houthi militias are a terrorist tool to destroy Yemen,” he said. “The Kingdom reserves the right to respond to Iran at the right place and time.” Last week Saudi Arabia called on the UN to take measures against Iran to hold Tehran accountable for its conduct.
Events are moving fast. They could lead to a military confrontation, including the intensification of proxy wars, and a deepening of the Shiite-Sunni divide. The danger persists as long as the two superpowers, Russia and the US, stand on opposing sides of the spectrum on many regional issues, especially Iran. Recent comments from the Oval Office make it clear that the latest events have full US approval and conform with its expectations and policies.
The Iranian ballistic missile program is a key factor in Arab strategies and alliances. Many countries in the Middle East started heading east and west to purchase air defense missiles, such as the Russian S-300 and S-400 and the American Patriot and THAAD systems. Arab countries also started to think of producing their own military equipment by having offset projects with weapons manufacturers in China, Russia, Ukraine, South Africa, France, the UK, Germany, Brazil and the former Yugoslavia.
Saudi Arabia is also concerned about the influence of Iran in Lebanon through its proxy, Hezbollah, even more so since Riyadh believes Hezbollah operatives fired the most recent missile launched at the Kingdom from Yemen. “The Lebanese must all know these risks and work to fix matters before they reach the point of no return,” said the Saudi Minister for Arab Gulf Affairs Thamer Al-Sabhan.
This war of words may lead to a military clash in the Gulf or in Lebanon, further escalation in Yemen, Iraq and Syria, where Iran has a strong presence, and further proxy wars, unless the Americans take direct action against Iranian troops in Syria and Iraq. And that would lead to a dramatic escalation of tensions between regional and international powers already competing for influence in the Middle East.
Iran is a direct threat to the stability of the region, and US President Donald Trump has listed it as a major global threat. Tehran’s growing influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, as well its activities in support of Houthi rebels in Yemen, pose a threat to the interests of the Arab world.
Action may be taken, including the military option, against the Iranian presence in the Levant. Escalation in Lebanon, the worst-case scenario, may result in a military conflict that would explode the region and drastically affect global stability because the players involved are so numerous and the stakes so high.
Nevertheless, the concerned sides understand that direct conflict would be a zero-sum game, and has to be avoided. The way to do so is by conducting proxy wars, but the cost of such wars on global stability and human life would also, inevitably, be too high.
Russia closely follows developments in the region because it has become directly involved. For Moscow, regional processes are critical. Historically, stability in Russia depends a lot on the climate in the region, and the Middle East is again one of its national interests. It has succeeded in building normal ties with all the players in the region, even those that are rivals with one other. Having good ties with Iran and Saudi Arabia, Russia has been proposing itself as a potential mediator in the conflict between Riyadh and Tehran, although the offer has not yet been taken up. Russia is worried about the possibility of escalation of already existing proxy wars and the emergence of new ones, especially in Lebanon.
In commenting on the dispute between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Russia has used diplomatic rhetoric, calculating all the possible risks and scenarios. A war in Lebanon would mean a drastic deterioration in regional stability, especially in Syria. The region needs stability, and political and diplomatic solutions for its disputes.
The greater Middle East has experienced unprecedented political turmoil and violence in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring. The political order as we knew it was upended in 2011 and the region has not yet fully recovered from that disruption.
The resulting political and humanitarian crises have been difficult to resolve, not only for the people most affected but also for their neighbors, and the wider international community. And while countries such as Saudi Arabia have used every means at their disposal to bring an end to the violence, resolve political disputes and alleviate human suffering, others have exploited the political and security vacuums that have emerged to advance their own narrow self-interests, at the expense of the people of these countries.
Non-state actors, militant organizations, terrorist groups and state actors who routinely violate the norms, conventions and laws of international relations by interfering in the domestic affairs of other nations and by adopting policies that destabilize other countries and entire regions are largely responsible for the continuing instability.
The non-state actors are unfortunately many. The most infamous terrorist group is Daesh. For several years, Daesh launched a campaign of terror, death and destruction against people in Iraq, Syria, Libya and even Yemen. It has also conducted several terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt, and has inspired attacks in the US and throughout Europe. Other militant organizations have also shown complete disregard for the wellbeing, security and prosperity of the nations they are in; Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen are the two prime examples.
But it is not only non-state actors that have destabilized the region. Unfortunately, the Iranian government continues to defy international laws and norms by sponsoring militant groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen, all at the expense of the stability of these countries. Whether Iran is in compliance with the nuclear agreement it signed with six other countries is a matter of dispute, but there is no disputing that Iran continues to be a major source of instability in the region, as was expressed very clearly by US President Donald Trump last month.
Against this foreboding backdrop, we have Saudi Arabia. As the birthplace of Islam and home to its two holiest sites, the Kingdom occupies a special place in the Islamic world. It is also the world’s biggest exporter of crude oil and the Middle East’s largest economy. There is therefore an expectation in the Arab world and in the broader Islamic world that Saudi Arabia is the country best positioned to play a leadership role in resolving the myriad political conflicts and to meet the many economic challenges that continue to vex many countries.
Saudi Arabia recognizes that it has indeed been blessed with its custodianship of the two holy mosques, as well as its oil wealth. And it has used every political and economic tool at its disposal to bring stability and prosperity to the region and beyond. However, it has always operated within the confines of international laws, norms and conventions and, whenever possible, has sought multilateral solutions and coalitions to resolve political and economic challenges.
Saudi Arabia is a firm believer in the peaceful resolution of disputes and in mutually beneficial political, military and economic arrangements. To that end, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have embarked on a diplomatic offensive — for lack of a better word — to strengthen relations with neighboring countries, emerging powers, traditional allies and superpowers. Saudi Arabia enjoys friendly, mutually beneficial relations with the overwhelming majority of countries around the world. That is a testament to how it conducts its foreign affairs
At the same time, the Kingdom is well aware that, like other countries in the region, its security is threatened by terrorist groups of various kinds as well as rogue states that continue to defy international norms and laws. Saudi Arabia has been resolute in the concrete measures it has taken to counter these very real threats to its security.
When it comes to terrorism and extremism, the Kingdom has adopted a zero-tolerance policy. It has made it clear to militant organizations and terrorist groups, as well as Iran, that they will not be allowed to destabilize the region with impunity.
While leaving the use of force as an absolute last resort, Saudi Arabia has also made it clear that it will respond forcefully if certain red lines are crossed. We see that most clearly in Yemen, where the Kingdom is leading an Arab coalition to restore the internationally recognized government. The prospect of a neighboring country falling victim to the machinations of militant and terrorist groups, all of which have shown complete disregard for the security, wellbeing and prosperity of the good people of Yemen, required a strong response. In Yemen, the Houthis, their Iranian patrons and allies such as Hezbollah, as well as Al-Qaeda, Daesh and other terrorist groups, are learning a hard lesson; that they will be held accountable for their actions and that flouting international laws, agreements and norms, and threatening the security of Yemen’s neighbors, will not be tolerated.
The tendency of Israel to describe any criticism of its policies as anti-Semitism thwarts the Middle East peace effort and enables extremists to fan the flames of conflict. It also makes it easy for Israelis to denounce anyone who challenges their extremism or violence.
Britain’s Prince Charles knows what I am talking about. In 1986, after touring Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, and traveling through the Suez Canal, he wrote down his candid feelings in a seven-paragraph letter and sent it to one of his friends, the author and war hero Laurens van der Post.
The letter was discovered recently and published last week by a British newspaper, the Daily Mail.
Charles was honest and factual in his comments, which Israelis tend to frown upon. He said he had learned much about the Arab-Israeli conflict by talking to Arabs. That was an important point, because many politicians, especially in America, listen only to the views and opinions of Israelis and don’t spend enough time listening to Arabs.
The prince told his friend that he spent time reading an English version of the Qur’an, which he said gave him “some insight” into how Arabs “think and operate.” He noted in a positive way that the Qur’an put much emphasis on hospitality, and the accessibility of traditional Arab rulers.
But it was his comments about Israel and Jewish activists that angered the Jewish world, and sparked complaints that Charles was anti-Semitic. He wrote that after speaking with many Arabs, he had come to understand the Arab point of view, especially the widespread belief among many Arabs that Israel is really a colony of the US.
I found Charles’s letter to be honest and forthright, values that many Israelis dislike because truth and justice tend to undermine the Israeli narrative, and often expose the fake history Israel has crafted that distorts their own responsibility for causing violence and suffering.
You can talk about Christians and Muslims in the Western world and never be accused of being anti-Christian or anti-Muslim. But if you ever blame anything on Jews, you are immediately denounced as anti-Semitic, one of many pejorative terms the Daily Mail used, such as calling the letter’s contents “incendiary.”
Of course, many mainstream news outlets are anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and racist when it comes to the Middle East conflict. They blame the Arabs for everything and give Israel a pass. That is why the prince was probably surprised when he heard Arabs present the other side of the story — a story that is more accurate than the propaganda Israel promotes in its multimillion-dollar public relations spin.
Charles said he recognized Arabs and Jews both to be Semitic people, something Israelis often downplay. And then he lit the fuse of pro-Israel anger, writing: “It is the influx of foreign, European Jews (especially from Poland, they say) which has helped to cause great problems.”
Never mind that his statement is factual; it was the expressed policy of the Western powers for much of the 20th century. This immigration caused great strife, especially since the British government, which occupied Palestine in a Western power mandate until 1948, favored the concerns and interests of Jews over the legitimate and legal rights of non-Jews.
Charles ended his letter with a punch to Israel’s propaganda gut: “Surely some US president has to have the courage to stand up and take on the Jewish lobby?” And he concluded: “I must be naive, I suppose.”
The prince’s short, single-page letter is a counter punch to the even shorter letter that British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour delivered on behalf of the British government to Jewish leaders in 1917, declaring British support for a “national home for the Jewish people.”
Charles’s critics have called him anti-Semitic, and worse, because he dared to question the influence of the Jewish lobby in America, a lobby that openly flaunts its power and influence over American foreign policy. Any American politician who dares to challenge Israel will be buried in an avalanche of political and personal attacks. The Israeli lobby pours millions into preventing any critic from being elected to office.
In America and in the West, you are not allowed to acknowledge that truth. You can celebrate Israel as a Jewish state, but never question the role that Jews play in obfuscating Israel’s violence against non-Jews.
Sadly, while many politicians share the views that Prince Charles put down on paper 31 years ago, few have the courage to express them publicly — let alone, as the prince did, to challenge the pro-Israel lobby that bullies, distorts and lies to prevent Israel’s government from ever being held accountable for any of its historic war crimes against non-Jews.
After 37 years in power, the curtain is surely closing on Robert Mugabe's long reign as president of Zimbabwe. Today, although they insisted that they were not carrying out a coup, the military generals effectively took control of state power.
This came just two days after the top military leader, General Constantino Chiwenga issued a statement that was highly critical of the Mugabe regime declaring that it had failed. The statement told Mugabe that he had lost control of the ruling party and government and ominously warned that the military would not hesitate to step in and take "drastic measures".
The general's statement was prompted by last week's controversial sacking of Mugabe's vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was previously considered the leading contender to succeed the 93-year old president upon retirement. Mnangagwa has a close relationship with some members of the military, which is why they came to his defence following his sacking. It was Mnangagwa's expulsion that brought the confrontation between Mugabe and the military.
However, Mnangagwa and Mugabe were not always enemies. Mnangagwa, the younger man in the relationship, had served loyally Mugabe for a very long time, first as a special assistant during the war to liberate Zimbabwe, which Mugabe led in the 1970s, and later as a minister and vice president in independent Zimbabwe.
Before his sacking he was one of the only two ministers in the government who had been in Mugabe's cabinet since 1980. Mnangagwa was Mugabe's enforcer, carrying out the more unpleasant tasks, first as state security minister, then as justice minister and as vice president. In the ruling ZANU-PF party, Mnangagwa was, for a long time, in charge of party finances. He was known to be loyal to Mugabe. So how then did the two men fall out?
Mugabe's young wife, Grace, developed her own ambitions to succeed him. This placed her into direct conflict with Mnangagwa, who had waited in the wings for a long time, hoping that one day he would succeed his boss.
For his part, Mugabe was faced with a choice between his wife and his long-time lieutenant. He chose his wife, which immediately brought him into conflict with his subordinate. A bad situation only got worse when Mugabe fired Mnangagwa last week.
This came after Mnangagwa had been humiliated by his wife. When Grace became aggressive and treated Mnangagwa with contempt, Mugabe did not restrain her. Instead, he backed her and also attacked Mnangagwa before he fired him. This escalated the crisis.
Ironically, it is this move to sack Mnangagwa that has boomeranged on Mugabe and now threatens to cause an ignominious end to his long and controversial political career. His top military general, Chiwenga, has chosen his subordinate ahead of him.
It is yet another instance of the military intervening in civilian politics, although this is prohibited by the constitution. However, this type of military intervention is not new and Mugabe has no right to complain. The difference is that this intervention is against Mugabe. In the past it has favoured him.
For example, back in 2002, the military generals took a political position to support Mugabe while prejudicing his bitter rival Morgan Tsvangirai, whom they regarded as lacking liberation credentials. This was repeated in the following elections. In the aftermath of Tsvangirai's victory in 2008, the military also intervened, ensuring that Mugabe recovered lost ground through a brutal campaign especially in the rural areas. This allowed him to keep power against all odds.
So the irony is that while Mugabe has survived by virtue of the backing he has received from the military and he is now on the verge of losing power pressured by the very same military.
In a normal society, people would be outraged by a military takeover. But Zimbabwe at the moment is far from normality. Zimbabweans have had to carry the burden of misrule from the Mugabe regime since 1980. They have been violated and frustrated. Their efforts to change government and try new approaches have been foiled. In recent years, even the once vibrant opposition has become tired and started squabbling due to fatigue and frustration.
It seemed like Mugabe would stay in power till death. Social and economic conditions have not been improving. They have only been getting worse. The country has no national currency and of late, there have been serious cash shortages. Unemployment is more than 90 percent. Most young people have one ambition: to leave the country as soon as they can.
In these conditions, people have said any change, whichever way it comes, is good. This is why most Zimbabweans seem to have welcomed the military intervention. It is not because they like military rule. Rather, it is because it is a form of change from the one man rule system which was threatening to become dynastic rule. The mantra has been: anything but Mugabe. That there may be problems with military rule is not an immediate concern. It's something they are prepared to confront as it comes.
And what now for Mugabe? There will be negotiations aimed at giving him a dignified exit. As for his wife, she may only be spared out of deference to Mugabe. But what happens to her after Mugabe's departure is anybody's guess. She made far too many enemies during her short political career. Her allies in her faction will also pay the price for their conduct. They also became haughty and arrogant. They celebrated too soon, well before the war was over.
The succession race was brutal and caused bad blood between the factions. Now however, they are detained. It's important of course that they be treated humanely and that they get due process in line with the constitution. But the faction that is now in power will most likely choose vengeance, making sure that the losing faction is totally and completely annihilated.
As for the victors, their challenge is multi-faced: they must ensure the restoration of the constitutional order, they must heal a divided party and nation, they must create an environment that will bring back the country to a free democracy, they ought to work on mending international relations especially with the West and uppermost in the minds of most people, they must fix the economy.
This is a mammoth task and they will do well to harness the pool of talent that is at the country's disposal. Zimbabwe has opened a new, if uncertain chapter. It will need all the help it can get from its friends.
As President Donald Trump toured Asia, three US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier battle groups were exercising together in the Pacific. It’s an awesome display of US military power and reach, a reminder of Washington’s unparalleled ability to project global force. At the same time, however, it’s also a sign of how stretched those forces have become.
Getting three carriers to the Pacific has been an intrinsic part of Washington’s strategy to intimidate North Korea. But to do so required pulling forces from a host of other potential conflict areas, including the Gulf.
The ever-increasing demand for military resources in a growing number of places is causing increased concern in the US military. In June, a report by the US Army War College described America’s military clout as “fraying” and bluntly concluded that the era of US global military primacy that followed the fall of the Berlin wall was over. America’s armed forces have a variety of strategies to tackle that decline but the truth is that coming wars will look very different from the sort of military deployments taken for granted in the recent past.
The change from a decade or so ago could scarcely be starker. In the aftermath of 9/11, America’s conventional military capability was narrowly focused on a handful of locations, primarily Iraq and Afghanistan. The resources plowed into them were stupendous - $5.6 trillion so far, academics at Brown University estimated this month. That would imply a cost per individual US taxpayer of more than $23,000, including future care for veterans.
At their height, those wars dominated US military thinking, planning and workload in a way that is hard to overstate. Working from Pentagon figures, the Brown researchers estimate that some 2.7 million American service personnel passed through those two countries in that time, more than half of them deploying more than once. Officially, however, these conflicts were never seen as endless wars - the hope was always that one last surge of troops would win the day and allow a larger withdrawal.
That didn’t happen, and US military planners now assume there will be a substantial presence in Iraq, Afghanistan and several other countries for years, if not decades, to come. Since the middle of the Obama administration, however, the Pentagon has quietly and comprehensively changed its approach to those wars, aiming for a much more sustainable “advise and assist” model working through local forces.
Speaking at the Association of the US Army meeting in Washington in October, US Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley made it clear he expected such missions to grow substantially in the years to come. The success of the US-led coalition against Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS) in Iraq and Syria demonstrates such tactics can work. But there have also been substantial failures and wastage, not least in Afghanistan where local security forces continue to struggle despite absorbing $70 billion of US funding since 2001.
Much of the burden of US operations in the last 15 years has fallen on a handful of special operations units, whose budgets, personnel numbers and deployments have all risen dramatically. They are now dangerously overstretched, and the US Army is now looking to create more mainstream units to take on unconventional deployments.
With much of the fighting left to local forces, US casualties are substantially lower. But as the death of four US Green Berets in Niger last month demonstrated, putting troops far forward with less backup than they could call on in Iraq and Afghanistan means that when things go wrong, they go bad fast.
Another awkward truth: In the last year US personnel have been more likely to die in accidents than action, the result of a series of incidents including the high profile collisions of destroyers USS Fitzgerald and McCain. That toll suggests that even the parts of the US military that have not been fighting wars are perhaps dangerously overstretched.
That’s been particularly true in Asia, where both the Fitzgerald and McCain were based. Tensions with China and North Korea have kept those units on high alert. In Europe too, heightened tensions with Russia have resulted in a scale of US military activity unseen since the Cold War. US troops, planes, ships and submarines are now on almost continuous exercises to reassure allies and track Russia’s increasingly active forces as Moscow probes NATO air and sea borders.
The Pentagon budget - $825 billion this fiscal year - is rising, and continues to dwarf that of any other nation. But it is also spread much more widely. China and Russia - spending $146 billion and 70 billion respectively - lack America’s global reach, but are more aggressively focused on their own immediate neighborhoods. Both have aggressively plowed resources into techniques and tactics such as cyber warfare and missiles that US tacticians worry might give them the edge in any local war.
Some of that was expected - the Obama administration began its “pivot” to Asia in 2012 because of the perceived growing China threat. Much, however, was not - not least the speed with which North Korea has raced towards being able to strike the US with nuclear-tipped missiles.
Washington’s military capabilities still dwarf anyone else’s. But it now faces a very real danger that its foes may be able to bleed it to death without ever confronting it in battle.