America's Endless War in the Greater Middle East
Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com
Here's last week's good news on America's war fronts: finally, there's light at the end of the tunnel!
From one end of the Greater Middle East to the other, things are looking up for Washington. A U.S. Air Force drone struck for the first time in Baluchistan province and took out the leader of the Taliban with two Hellfire missiles (whereupon the Pakistani government denounced Washington for violating the country's sovereignty). The action was taken, President Obama later announced, as part of "our longstanding effort to bring peace and prosperity to Afghanistan." (Admittedly, you may not have heard much about such peace and prosperity recently with fierce fighting raging on Afghan battlefields, the Taliban gaining ground, the government in its usual pit of corruption, and the country maintaining its proud position as the uncontested global leader in the production and sale of opium.)
Soon after, the president paid a historic visit to Vietnam and finally put to bed memories of a disastrous American war there in the only way conceivable -- by ensuring that American arms and munitions would once again be allowed to flow freely into that country. And while he was at it, he sternly rebuked China (without mentioning it by name) for its actions in the waters off Vietnam. "Nations are sovereign," he said, "and no matter how large or small a nation may be, its territory should be respected."
On the other side of the Greater Middle East, U.S. Green Berets were photographed in northern Syria engaged with Kurdish rebels in fighting aimed at someday retaking Raqqa, the "capital" of the Islamic State. Several of those soldiers were wearing the insignia of the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Forces, or YPG (which the Turkish government considers a terrorist outfit), even as the Pentagon continued to insist that theirs was a non-combat role. In other words -- in the good news category -- those boots, whatever the photos might seem to indicate, were not actually on the ground. Meanwhile, some genuinely upbeat news arrived in the midst of a little distinctly out-of-date bad news. Members of the U.S. team now conducting the air war against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq told New York Times reporter Eric Schmitt that, despite thousands of air strikes, their predecessors had essentially botched the job, thanks to "poor intelligence collection and clumsy process for identifying targets." Fortunately, they were now in charge and the results were stunning. The Islamic State was finally being hit in its pocketbook, where it truly hurts, damaging its "ability to pay its fighters, govern, and attract new recruits."
"Every bomb now has a greater impact," reported U.S. air war commander Lieutenant General Charles Brown Jr. Yes, after 15 years of American air war across the Greater Middle East, it seems that, from Pakistan to Syria, the Obama administration has finally found the winning formula. If, as Schmitt's piece indicated, you want confirmation of that, who better to turn to than the very people who have gotten the formula right? Having no access to similar in-the-know figures capable of throwing light on the subject of Washington's ongoing conflicts, TomDispatch instead turned to outsider Andrew Bacevich, author most recently of a groundbreaking book, America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, to assess the recent spate of upbeat news from America's war zones. We sent him directly into that infamous Vietnam-era tunnel of darkness to see what might be glimpsed so many decades later when it comes to the American way of war, and his report, "Milestones (Or What Passes for Them in Washington)," is out today.