Posts Tagged ‘NATO’

US Losing in Afghanistan: Like Viet Cong, Taliban Knows That Waiting It Out will Defeat Invaders

August 17, 2018

The latest conflicting reports about whether or not the Taliban has taken the strategic city of Ghazni between the Afghan capital of Kabul and Kandahar reflect the dilemma and difficulties that the American forces face today.

The concerns come despite the firepower and technology that the US has applied against an insurgent force, which has taken over more than 50 percent of the country. This is despite America having almost completely driven out the Taliban when it first invaded Afghanistan in late 2001.

The battle for Ghazni and indeed the effort to defeat the Taliban in remote areas of the country suggest that, notwithstanding the intelligence, technology and communications capabilities at its disposal, the US is losing the battle to secure the country.

Image result for taliban, photos

If the Taliban occupies Ghazni by defeating Afghan forces, it effectively would cut off southern Afghanistan from the Kabul government, which would represent a significant development.

As one intelligence official recently told this writer, if the US were to pull its troops out of Afghanistan, Kabul and the corrupt US-installed government there wouldn’t last beyond a week despite the 16 years that the US has been fighting in the country.

Indeed, the Taliban have shown no intention of joining the government, and refuse to negotiate anything as long as foreign forces, namely the US and its NATO allies, remain in the country.

The Taliban, through its insurgent tactics, have demonstrated the ability to attack Afghan forces in Kabul despite all the security that has been employed there and the training the US has provided to the Afghan military and security forces.

It raises alarm over how the Taliban can launch attacks even in the capital of Kabul despite increased air attacks under President Donald Trump’s recently announced policy of intensifying US action and changing the rules of engagement from the strictures that existed on US forces under the Obama administration.

Image result for battle for Ghazni, photos

The Taliban, originally created by the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, or Inter-Services Intelligence, had reportedly been joined in the battle for Ghazni by foreign insurgent forces.

The Taliban’s infiltration of peoples’ homes and their nighttime fighting of Afghan forces to capture Ghazni show some similarities to what US forces experienced with the Viet Cong in Vietnam during the 1960s. Despite all the firepower, technology and massive numbers of American forces that were employed, it wasn’t sufficient to defeat a homegrown insurgency that was predominantly comprised of local fighters.

As it was, the VC battled US forces for some seven years, but fought the French for almost 20 years before that with the beginning of the First Indochina War in 1946 in what then was French Indochina. The French fought the then-Viet Minh led by Ho Chi Minh, who later would become the leader of North Vietnam and the conventional North Vietnamese army and VC forces that would fight against the Americans.

Between 1965 and 1972, the US fought a traditional war against the North Vietnamese army,” wrote author George Winston for War History Online.

At the same time, they fought a counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign against Viet Cong guerilla soldiers,” Winston said. “The US also fought COIN campaigns in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014 and in Iraq from 2003 to 2011.

Simply put, counterinsurgency in the current sense is to look at the local population not as the enemy, but as people needing protection. It combines military with local efforts to win the hearts and minds of the people against insurgent forces that seek to topple the government.

The VC demonstrated repeatedly that, despite defeats like US officials now are claiming against the Taliban in the attempt to take over Ghazni, they lived to fight again another day, employing insurgency tactics that predated advanced technology. It also suggests that, given the Taliban’s success in occupying Ghazni, even for a little while, intelligence on the Taliban employing some of the latest technology, including human intelligence, is proving insufficient.

For example, all the intelligence at the disposal of the US never picked up any indication of the Taliban amassing to launch an attack on Ghazni in the first place. One of the reasons is that the Taliban blends in with the local population, which oftentimes surrounds remote US and allied strongholds, making it most difficult for satellites and other communications to be effective.

The current fighting in and around Ghazni City indicates that the Taliban has a detailed plan to tie up Afghan forces while attempting to seize the provincial capital,” said Bill Roggio in the Long War Journal.

Additionally, the Taliban was able to mass its forces undetected. The Afghan military was clearly caught off guard and is struggling to get into the fight four days after the Taliban launched its attack,” Roggio added.

No foreign invader has ever taken over Afghanistan permanently. Like the Viet Cong, the Taliban know that it just needs to wait out the US, seeing the opposition that grew in the US to the Vietnam War, with the same concerns mounting in Congress now on how long American forces will remain in Afghanistan.

It is apparent that the current Trump administration’s strategy of increasing troop levels isn’t working. The US and its NATO allies had ceased a combat role in Afghanistan in 2014 but continued instead to advise and train Afghan security forces.

US and Afghan forces have all but abandoned any COIN strategy which then Gen. David Petraeus employed first in Iraq and then used it in Afghanistan with promising results.

He was, after all, the person who, more than any other, brought Iraq back from the brink of total disaster after he assumed command of US forces there in 2007,” said war correspondent Peter Bergen.

To understand how daunting a task that was, recall that when Petraeus took over in Iraq, the country was embroiled in a civil war so vicious that civilians were dying at the rate of 90 a day,” he said.

Bergen went on to point out that Petraeus then developed a new counterinsurgency doctrine which laid the foundation in a new Army field manual of tactics employed in Afghanistan until 2014.

The doctrine in this new manual deeply informed how the US military would fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Bergen said.

The manual pointed to such unsuccessful counterinsurgency practices as overemphasizing killing and capturing the enemy, rather than making conditions secure for the populace, conducting large-scale operations as the norm, and concentrating military forces in large bases for protection.”

Despite all the training that the US has since provided to the Afghan military and security forces, however, they still require America’s assistance in taking back areas overrun by the Taliban but are unable to hold the areas permanently. Counterinsurgency practices of trying to win the hearts and minds of the local population have long been abandoned.

This is what just occurred in the most recent battle for Ghazni. Afghan security forces were spread out too far to hold Ghazni and, as a consequence, the Taliban was able to capture the main road from Ghazni that links Kabul with the south of the country.

The Taliban strategy, as it has demonstrated across Afghanistan for years, is to take an area, occupy until kicked out, but then launch attacks elsewhere in the country, causing Afghan security forces to be split up. Once those forces leave to chase the Taliban out of another part of the country, local Taliban forces then re-emerge, as has occurred in Ghazni and especially elsewhere in remote areas of the country.

If Afghan security forces are to occupy an area, they need to insure their supply lines remain intact. They are constantly under attack by the Taliban, making any effort for Afghan forces to hold an area only temporary. As a consequence, the war goes on without remedy, with no indication that the Taliban intend to call it quits.

Adding to the dilemma over what US policy should be in Afghanistan are reports that Afghan security forces have actually dropped in numbers as the security situation continues to deteriorate. Over the past year, the number of Afghan security forces has decreased by about 11 percent, making the US mission even more challenging in its advise-and-train role. Invariably, US forces need to resort to a more combative role, for which they are ill-equipped and instead must rely on the limited number of US Special Forces who are providing the training.

Clearly, a military solution – whether Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan – hasn’t worked before, or now. Russian officials inform me that they have had a standing group on Afghanistan to explore with regional countries alternative approaches toward a peaceful resolution of the war in Afghanistan.

However, the US has ignored repeated invitations to participate. Without the US, one Russian official told me, such a solution cannot be reached. Perhaps now the Trump administration needs to reconsider that stance and put aside its anti-Russian mantra in order to cooperatively work with regional countries and – yes, Russia – to find that solution.

By F. Michael Maloof
Source: RT

US Losing in Afghanistan: Like Viet Cong, Taliban Knows That Waiting It Out will Defeat Invaders


Erdogan Moves to Shore Up Alliances as U.S. Standoff Deepens

August 16, 2018
  • The president spoke with Merkel, got aid pledge from Qatar
  • Turkey’s finance minister will hold a call with investors
A trader watches a speech by Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s finance minister, broadcast on a digital screen at the Borsa Istanbul SA stock exchange in Istanbul, Turkey.  Photographer: Ismail Ferdous/Bloomberg

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan moved to shore up alliances in Europe and the Middle East, easing pressure on the battered lira, as the standoff between Turkey and the U.S. deepened.

Efforts to rally support and bolster domestic markets include a call between Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak and international investors. Erdogan was set to speak with French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday, a day after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a $15 billion pledge of support from Qatar.

The lira climbed for a third day along with emerging-market currencies even after the White House said new tariffs on Turkish goods would remain regardless of whether Andrew Brunson, an American pastor detained in Turkey, was freed. Helping support the currency, the central bank didn’t offer any funding through its one-week repo rate at 17.75 percent for a fourth day, forcing lenders toward its more expensive overnight rate of 19.95 percent.

“The bigger issue for markets is this constant politicization of economic and financial issues,” said Mohieddine Kronfol, the Dubai-based chief investment officer for global sukuk, Middle East and North Africa fixed income at Franklin Templeton Investments.

Erdogan’s overtures to Europe suggest he’s prepared to mend ties strained by past diplomatic clashes — he accused Merkel’s government of engaging in “Nazi practices” last year — in an attempt to weather the U.S. pressure. The pledge by Qatar, on the other hand, rewards the president for standing by the gas-rich Gulf country against a Saudi-led boycott backed by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Read More: Erdogan Cast Aside as Trump Favors Other Mideast Strongmen

Qatar said the financial package would come in the form of “projects, investments and deposits.” It didn’t give details. The lira, one of the world’s worst-performing currencies this year, advanced 2 percent to 5.8268 per dollar at 11:45 a.m. in Istanbul, paring its loss for the year to about 35 percent.

The plight of Brunson has dominated the Trump administration’s strategy toward its NATO ally, even as the dispute roiled currency markets. Brunson, who Turkish officials say had links to a failed 2016 coup, is being held under house arrest. An appeals court is due to rule on his fate this week. A lower court already turned down his lawyer’s request to free him and the U.S. has said it won’t negotiate until he’s released.

Erdogan said the standoff would push Turkey to forge other alliances. Shortly afterwards, his government said it would not comply with U.S. sanctions against Iran, a key oil supplier to Turkey.

Investors and analysts say the support from the likes of Qatar will help Turkey buy time but doesn’t replace the need for policy actions to contain double-digit inflation and a mass of foreign-currency debt. That’s why the upcoming presentation by Albayrak, Erdogan’s son-in-law, is so critical.

Read More: Turkey Returns to ‘Stealth’ Tactics to Raise Borrowing Costs

“I would ideally need to hear a more substantiated fiscal plan,” Esther Law, an emerging-market debt manager at Amundi SA, said on Bloomberg TV. “Give me some numbers. Will there be any fiscal rule? How are they going to achieve, let’s say, a budget deficit not much worse than where we are without compromising growth too much. This is exactly what I’m after.”

Turkey’s effort to bolster its political alliances came in tandem with steps taken by authorities to support the banking system and curb short selling of the lira.

Ehsan Khoman, head of MENA research and strategy at MUFG Bank, said he expects that the currency’s relief to be short-lived, prompting the central bank to hike borrowing costs “imminently in order to rebuild credibility.”

— With assistance by Constantine Courcoulas

Turkey Shifts Closer to Russia

August 15, 2018

Foreign ministers slam Western sanctions, as Erdogan plans boycott of U.S. electronic goods

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, right, discussed the Syrian crisis with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Moscow in April.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, right, discussed the Syrian crisis with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Moscow in April.PHOTO: SERGEI CHIRIKOV/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

ISTANBUL—President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey stepped up his attacks on the U.S. on Tuesday, calling for a boycott of Apple Inc.’s iPhones and other U.S. electronic goods, while his foreign minister joined his Russian counterpart in criticizing Western sanctions.

Turkey, a longtime North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally, has been caught between the West and Russia. This week, officials in Ankara were leaning decidedly toward Moscow.

In recent weeks, Turkey and Russia have been the targets of U.S. sanctions while their currencies, the lira and the ruble, have dropped against the dollar. Mr. Erdogan’s boycott is part of a wider campaign Turkey has launched to retaliate against the U.S. measures.

The lira, already hit by investor concerns over Turkey’s financial stability, has hit a series of record lows since Aug. 1, when the U.S. imposed sanctions on Turkey for not freeing a U.S. pastor facing terrorism charges.

On Tuesday, the lira rose slightly against the dollar, to 6.37, but remains vastly lower against the U.S. currency this year.

New tariffs the U.S. introduced on some Turkish imports on Monday have raised concerns of a full-blown trade war.

Attending a conference with Russia’s top diplomat, Sergei Lavrov, in Ankara on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu of Turkey lashed out against Western sanctions.

“This era when we are being bullied must end,” Mr. Cavusoglu said.

Mr. Lavrov echoed those sentiments: “They are using methods of sanctions, threats, blackmail and diktat.”

Promising tighter cooperation with Turkey, Mr. Lavrov said Russia may shun the dollar in bilateral trade in the future, as it has done with countries such as China and Iran.

A Relationship in Crisis: Turkey Drifts Away From the U.S. and Towards Russia

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism and pursuit of a nationalist agenda has put his country at odds with its U.S and NATO allies. Meanwhile, he’s found a friend in Vladimir Putin. Photo: Getty Images

Closer ties to Russia could help Mr. Erdogan make his nation less-reliant on Washington and change the face of post-World War II Europe, on which its military force has been guarding NATO’s southeastern flank.

“We are looking for new allies,” Mr. Erdogan told supporters on Sunday.

There are limits, however, to how much help Moscow can provide for Turkey’s economy. On Tuesday, Mr. Lavrov provided no concrete pledges of assistance.

The budding trade and military partnership between Russia and Turkey is a remarkable turn of events. Two years ago, tensions rose after Turkey downed a Russian jet fighter and Russia’s ambassador was shot and killed by an off-duty Turkish police officer.

Recently, however, Moscow has signed contracts to supply its southern neighbor with more natural gas, a nuclear power plant and an advanced antimissile shield.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a meeting on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, on July 26.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a meeting on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, on July 26. PHOTO: VLADIMIR ASTAPKOVICH/KREMLIN/SPUTNIK/REUTERS

In contrast, relations between Turkey and the U.S. have soured.

Mr. Erdogan has accused Washington of waging an economic war against Turkey. Over the weekend, he lamented the lack of action on his demand that the U.S. deport a cleric he has said was behind a failed coup in 2016. The cleric, Fethullah Gulen, has denied the accusation.

Manifestations of anti-U.S. sentiment have multiplied on social networks, where some people posted videos of themselves burning dollar bills and breaking U.S. electronic devices.

Hit hard by the drop in the lira, Ruhi Tas said he had tailored his own boycott.

Angry to see a $12,000 debt he contracted in dollars was ballooning in liras, the 43-year-old barber said he had decided to stop offering the “Amerikan” at his salon in the Black Sea town of Unye.

Although the male cut—short on the side and longer on the top—is very popular among youth in the region, the boycott has spread to other hairdressers, he said.

“I will resume doing the Amerikan when the dollar goes down,” he said, adding he had support from clients. “Tell the U.S. not to mess with Turkey.”

Despite using inflammatory language against the U.S., Mr. Erdogan has avoided direct attacks on President Trump, Turkish officials said, signaling that a compromise on the issue of the pastor, Andrew Brunson, was still possible. On Tuesday, the pastor’s lawyer said he had filed a new motion to Turkish courts, asking his client be released from house arrest and given back his passport.

Some analysts, meanwhile, said they expect Mr. Erdogan to forge closer ties with the European Union, which relies on Turkey’s help to contain migrant flows, and remain committed to NATO.

The U.S.-Turkey spat “is a bilateral issue and will remain so,” said Unal Cevikoz, a retired ambassador who served in Russia. “Mr. Erdogan will not dare leave NATO.”

In Turkey and the U.S., the business community warned about possible catastrophic consequences and urged the two sides to avoid stoking tensions.

“Actions that heighten these tensions risk spreading today’s financial challenges to other emerging markets, to European banks, and, ultimately, to the U.S. economy,” said Myron Brilliant, vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Much of Tuesday’s meeting of the foreign ministers in Ankara concerned the war in Syria.

In the spring, Russia, one of the main sponsors of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, permitted Turkey to occupy a town in northwestern Syria to repel Kurdish militants whom the U.S. considers allies but Ankara regards as a terrorist threat.

In Ankara on Tuesday, Mr. Cavusoglu urged Mr. Lavrov to help contain the regime’s rush to retake the town of Idlib, around which Ankara has positioned military observers.

“It would be a massacre to bomb the whole of Idlib just because there are some terrorists inside,” he said.

Write to David Gauthier-Villars at

Appeared in the August 15, 2018, print edition as ‘Turkey Shifts Closer to Russia.’

Trump’s foreign policy is actually boosting America’s standing

August 12, 2018

A story is supposed to have  two sides, but there is only  one when it comes to President Trump’s foreign policy. Most American media treat his every effort as a savage assault on a harmonious world order.

Whether it’s the trade dispute with China, his pushing North Korea to scuttle its nukes or his demand that NATO members spend more on defense, the headlines sound the same shrieking note: “Trump inflames . . . Trump escalates . . . Trump doubles down . . . Trump risks . . .”

By Michael Goodwin

The parade of horribles continues to this day, but it will be hard to out-fear-monger a Time magazine headline from May: “By Violating Iran Deal, Trump Jeopardizes National Security.”

But since the world hasn’t ended and since we’re not dead yet, I humbly suggest it’s time to take a deep breath and consider the other side of the story.

We don’t have to look far. Numerous signs are popping up that the impact of Trump’s policies is far from the disastrous scenario the media predict. By wielding America’s power instead of apologizing for it, and by keeping his focus on jobs and national security, Trump is making progress in fixing the ruinous status quo he inherited.

America First, it turns out, is more than a slogan. It is a road map to reshaping America’s relationship with friend and foe alike.

Take China. Despite press accusations that Trump risks a global recession with tariffs on Chinese imports, recent reports from China say there is growing criticism there over how President Xi Jinping is handling Trump. One brave professor published an essay citing “rising anxiety” and “a degree of panic” about Xi’s combativeness on the issue and his autocratic ways.

Others told The New York Times and CNBC that China’s leaders should be flexible toward Trump’s push for a more equal trading system. They said boasts and threats from Chinese officials and retaliatory tariffs on American soybeans and other products are raising fears that Xi is courting chaos by overestimating China’s international clout.

“China should adopt a lower profile,” one foreign-policy expert there told the Times. “Don’t create this atmosphere that we’re about to supplant the American model.”

Turkey is testing Trump by seizing an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, and refusing to release him. Instead of paying a ransom or making concessions, Trump’s team levied sanctions on two Turkish cabinet members and doubled tariffs on steel and aluminum, which sent panic through currency markets. The Turkish lira lost 13 percent of its value against the dollar in one day and inflation stands at an ­estimated 85 percent.

The erratic Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has silenced nearly all opposition but revealed the pressure he’s feeling when he cryptically declared, “If they have their dollars, we have our people, our God.” He urged Turks to exchange gold and other valuables for the lira in hopes of stopping the rout. Good luck with that.

People walk in front of a currency exchange shop in the Iranian capital Tehran.
People walk in front of a currency exchange shop in the Iranian capital Tehran.AFP/Getty Images

Then there’s Iran. Notwithstanding Time magazine’s scare claim, Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear accord and last week’s imposition of sanctions aimed at the government and certain industries are adding to the economic pressure on the mullahs.

For months, demonstrations and strikes have focused on inflation, water shortages and rampant corruption, all amplified on social media. Some protesters criticize Iran’s involvement in Syria and its support of Hamas in Gaza while neglecting despair at home.

Even before the sanctions, the Iranian rial lost 80 percent of its value against the US dollar and Forbes estimates inflation exceeds 200 percent.

Trump tweeted that the sanctions, which had been lifted by President Barack Obama, are just the first step and that a bigger round starts in November. “Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States,” he wrote. “I am asking for WORLD PEACE, nothing less!”

That was a reference to his ­offer to talk to Iran’s leaders about a new nuclear deal. So far, the Iranians have sent mixed signals, but some observers believe the bite of sanctions will force them to the table.

Already some European firms that rushed to do business in Iran after the nuclear deal was signed are pulling out because they fear being blacklisted by the US Treasury. And regime attempts to blame everything on Trump are failing, with most of the public blaming the mullahs for the crisis.

As The Atlantic magazine notes, Trump’s approach to Iran resembles his approach to North Korea: “Saber rattling followed by summitry.” The magazine reports that North Korea’s foreign minister visited Tehran last week.Donald Trump

The NATO spending issue is a classic example of media bias against Trump. When President Ronald Reagan was subjected to similar knee-jerk attacks over his foreign policies, the late great William Safire dubbed the critics “Blame America Firsters.”

Of course, Reagan’s policies are now widely regarded as transformative. Unfortunately for the modern Blame America Firsters, the NATO issue shows Trump’s forceful actions can bring results.

The fact that only a handful of the other 28 members meet the agreed goal of spending 2 percent of their GDP on defense rankled former presidents but they could not move the needle. Europe loved Obama but ignored his polite request.

Then came Trump, and, instead of looking for love, he demanded money. His scorching criticism focused on the fact that NATO was designed to protect Europe from Russia, so it’s unfair for the US to pay the lion’s share of costs. Although Trump got his numbers wrong — NATO says the US pays 22 percent of all costs, not 90 percent — his point was correct.

Naturally, he made it theatrically and, naturally, most coverage suggested he was tearing the alliance apart by publicly airing dirty laundry, including his blast at Germany for spending billions to buy energy from Russia.

Busy attacking Trump, reporters ignored the fact that his criticism is bearing fruit.

The European Union agreed to buy more energy from America and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg credited Trump for pushing a “clear message” that members need to speed up defense hikes. He said Trump’s effort led to higher spending this year, though he did not confirm the president’s claim that the ­increase amounts to $33 billion.

At home, the president’s style spurs mass outbreaks of Trump Derangement Syndrome, but some foreign leaders appreciate his forceful clarity. An unidentified European Union ambassador told The Sun newspaper in London that Trump is “easier to negotiate with” than British Prime Minister Theresa May because Trump is focused on what he wants. May bungled Brexit negotiations by being ­unclear and indecisive, the official said, adding, “If this had been a rational discussion like we have with Trump on cars,” a deal might be finished.

Even relations with Mexico also look to be improving. The newly elected president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, thanked Trump for a “very respectful” congratulation message and said he wants to “reach an understanding” on NAFTA and other issues.

“We are conscious of the need to maintain good relations with the United States,” said López Obrador, whose populism and nationalism themes are compared to Trump’s.

More so than on any other topic, coverage of Israel reveals how the media either misread reality or simply distort it out of Trump hatred.

The president’s decision to right a historic wrong and recognize Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital was met with such exaggerated predictions of calamity that it seemed as if Armageddon was at hand. I happened to be in Jerusalem on the December day of the announcement, and the minor Arab protests showed how ridiculous those predictions were.

In fact, many Arab leaders are tired of Palestinian rejectionism and some have serious military relationships with Israel focused on Iran and Islamic State. For that and other reasons, by the time the new embassy building opened in May, some media reports described it as a merely “symbolic” move.

How about that — from Armageddon to symbolism in five months! That’s rewriting history in warp speed.

Trump the president is still a work in progress, as illustrated most vividly by his evolving policies on Russia. His quick correction of his mistake at Helsinki over Russian election meddling and the imposition of sanctions last week over the use of a nerve agentagainst an ex-Russian spy and his daughter in London look as if he is coming to accept the consensus view that Russia is an adversary, not a friend.

Besides, as he is showing elsewhere, weakness does not improve relations. Strength does.

He saw that firsthand when the sanctions sent shocks through Moscow’s stock and currency markets Friday. Russian leaders reacted with fury, as Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called the sanctions and the threat of a second round “economic warfare.”We’ll see if the bluster is followed by action.

A final thought: Trump’s big initiatives are in the early stages and remain unfinished. His team is solid but small and they are juggling a lot of complex issues. Time, persistence and luck are needed for success.

Some foreign governments are waiting to see what happens in the midterm elections. While it waits, China is actively targeting red-state industries with tariffs in a clear attempt to punish Trump. If that isn’t election meddling, what is it?

If the GOP loses either house of Congress, Trump would be weakened for the final two years of his term. Foreign leaders would be tempted to hold out for better terms — or a new president.

But if the GOP holds control, the president would be strengthened and command even more attention on the world stage. Then our nation could reap the full bounty of benefits from putting America First.

Afghanistan: Ghazni attack a demonstration of Taliban strength

August 10, 2018

Heavily armed Taliban fighters attacked Ghazni city in central Afghanistan early on Friday, burning police checkpoints, shelling houses and business areas and seizing control of parts of the city before being beaten back, officials said.

U.S. attack helicopters and drone aircraft provided government forces with air support. But as smoke rose across the city and witnesses reported bodies lying in the streets, and it was unclear how much of Ghazni was under government control.

The attack on a strategic city straddling the main route between the capital Kabul and southern Afghanistan demonstrated the Taliban’s strength, underscoring how volatile the security situation remains less than three months before parliamentary elections in October.

A member of the Afghan security forces keeping watch in Ghazni Province in April. Capturing the city of Ghazni would be the Taliban’s most important strategic gain in years. Credit Zakeria Hashimi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The defense ministry in Kabul said the attackers had been driven off but were still present in one area of the city and had occupied civilian houses, from where they were still keeping up occasional fire on security forces clearing the area.

It said around 150 attackers had been killed or wounded but gave no estimate of casualties for civilians or security forces.

A statement from U.S. military headquarters in Kabul said fighting had ceased by 8.00 a.m. (0330 GMT) and Afghan forces had held their ground and maintained control of all government centers.

“U.S. forces responded with close-air support (U.S. attack helicopters) and conducted one strike (drone). In addition, U.S. aircraft conducted a show of presence,” Lt Col. Martin O’Donnell, spokesman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan said in an emailed statement.

Officials said clashes between security forces and the Taliban started at around 2.00 a.m., forcing the closure of the main highway linking Ghazni to the capital Kabul, 150 kilometers (95 miles) to the northeast.

“The Taliban are dropping missiles near residential and commercial areas. There has not been a single minute of silence for the last eight hours,” said a senior government official in Ghazni early on Friday.

Ghazni police chief General Farid Ahmad Mashal said the Taliban seized several parts of the city, which has been under threat for months with heavy fighting in surrounding districts.

As helicopters circled overhead in the early morning, a second government official said it was too dangerous for people to leave their homes and he had no immediate details on casualties.

“It is not possible to get out of our homes to help the injured or collect bodies,” he said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued a statement saying multiple attacks were launched overnight in Ghazni. Dozens of Afghan soldiers and police had been killed and large quantities of weapons and equipment had been seized, he said.

However, O’Donnell said initial reports indicated minimal casualties among Afghan security forces.

“This is yet another failed Taliban attempt to seize terrain, which will result in yet another eye-catching, but strategically inconsequential headline,” he said.

The attack came amid growing hopes of talks to end 17 years of war in Afghanistan and less than two weeks before the Eid al-Adha festival, when the Western-backed government in Kabul had been considering offering a ceasefire.

In June, a three-day truce over the Eid al-Fitr holiday brought unprecedented scenes of unarmed Taliban fighters mingling with security forces in Kabul and other cities, offering a glimpse of peace and fuelling hopes of negotiations to end the war.

The Taliban have so far failed to take and hold any provincial center since they overran the northern city of Kunduz in 2015 before being driven off with the support of U.S. air strikes and Special Forces units.

They came close to repeating the feat in 2016, and in May this year they nearly overran the western city of Farah before being beaten back with the aid of U.S. forces.

Reporting by Reuters Staff, Ahmad Sultan in JALALABAD, writing by Rupam Jain and James Mackenzie, Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore



See also:

Taliban Launch Assault on Ghazni, a Key Afghan City


Afghanistan: Heavy explosions and gunfire as Taliban attack city of Ghazni

August 10, 2018

Taliban militants have launched an attack on an Afghan provincial capital and heavy fighting is under way as security forces try to beat them back, officials and witnesses said Friday.

At least one Afghan soldier has been killed and seven others wounded in the fighting in the southeastern city of Ghazni, provincial governor spokesman Arif Noori told AFP.

Civilian houses and army checkpoints have come under mortar attack and the bodies of dozens of Taliban fighters are in the streets, he added.

Image result for Aref Yaqubi , Afghanistan, Ghazni, photos

Ghazni, Afghanistan. Photo by Aref Yaqubi

The Taliban began the attack late Thursday from several positions around the city, provincial police chief Farid Ahmad Mashal told AFP.

Yasan, who lives in Ghazni, said the Taliban were using loudspeakers at the mosque to warn residents to leave their homes.

“Heavy explosions and gunfire can be heard. We are terrified,” Yasan said in a Facebook post.

Image result for Ghazni, Afghanistan, map

Police special forces have been deployed to help block the Taliban advance on the city, an Afghan security official said.

The Taliban issued a statement claiming to have captured “most of government buildings inside the city”.

“So far 140 enemy forces have been killed or wounded,” the group said.

It was the latest in a series of attempts by the Taliban over the past three years to capture urban centres.

Afghan forces have been struggling to hold back the resurgent militant group since the withdrawal of NATO combat forces at the end of 2014.

In May the Taliban attacked the western city of Farah. After a day of intense fighting, Afghan commandos and US air strikes drove the group to the outskirts of the city.

The attack on Ghazni comes as the Taliban faces growing pressure to agree to peace talks with the Afghan government to end the 17-year war.

It has so far ignored President Ashraf Ghani’s offer of unconditional peace negotiations.

The Taliban has long insisted on direct talks with the United States. Washington has repeatedly refused, saying negotiations must be Afghan-led.

But there are tentative signs that diplomatic efforts to kick-start talks are starting to bear fruit.

Washington indicated a change in its longstanding policy in June when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States was prepared to “support, facilitate and participate” in talks.

Pompeo also said the role of foreign forces in Afghanistan would be on the table.

Last month Taliban representatives met US officials for talks in Qatar.



Pakistan’s current account deficit at $2 billion a month — Imran Khan could see short span of patience from Pakistan’s military

August 9, 2018

We see “a potential opportunity” for economic prosperity in Pakistan in restoring peace and stability to Afghanistan…

Asad Umar, a Pakisan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader who is expected to be next finance minister, said on Wednesday that Pakistan had been running a current account deficit of $2 billion a month for the last three months.

Addressing a US think-tank from Islamabad, Mr Umar suggested resolving the Afghan dispute to improve Pakistan’s economic prospects and disagreed with those who say that political governments cannot make decisions about Afghanistan.

Take a look: Pakistan needs infusion of $12 billion in loans immediately: Asad Umar

The PTI leader, who came straight to Skype from Imran Khan’s meeting with the acting US ambassador, said that Washington agrees with PTI’s observation that Afghanistan was moving closer to a permanent peace.

PTI leader sees a ‘potential opportunity’ for economic prosperity in Pakistan in restoring peace and stability to Afghanistan

PPP’s Naveed Qamar and PML-N’s Tariq Fatemi also spoke at the think-tank — the US Institute of Peace — and agreed with the observation that Pakistan was facing a major financial crisis, perhaps the worst ever.

“We are facing a significant current account crisis, it’s well-known, well-document,” said Mr Umar. “From the time when the PML-N came in five years back, current account deficit of $2bn a year, to a situation where in the last three months we have been running a current account deficit of $2bn a month.”

Noting that this was a 12-fold increase, the future finance minister added: “This is not sustainable. Given that, the most urgent action required of the government will be to deal with this crisis.”

The PTI government, he said, would explore all available opportunities available to us. “But the decision has been left so late that you will have to look at all options … including discussions with bilateral and multilateral organisations. It is the most immediate crisis that is being faced.”

Image result for Imran Khan, photos

Imran Khan

Mr Umar then talked about an option that has been considered a taboo in Pakistan, changing foreign policies for economic gains. As a member of the audience later pointed out, the conventional wisdom in Pakistan is, a political government has little control over issues like Pakistan’s relations with the US, India and Afghanistan. When a political government tries that, it runs into trouble.

“My sense is, at least some of this narrative is used by political governments to find excuses for their failures,” the PTI leader said.

“Imran Khan will stand by the decisions we take. We will not come and say we wanted to do this but did not have control. If Imran Khan does not (have control), he would like to go home.”

Mr Umar, however, acknowledged that the military was the strongest institution in Pakistan, which continued to grow in strength while the civilian capacity eroded. “So, it makes sense for a Pakistani government to make use of that capacity,” he said, noting that US President Donald Trump had also pledged to withdraw from Afghanistan during his campaign but the US military establishment persuaded him not to.

The PTI leader said that he saw “a potential opportunity” for economic prosperity in Pakistan in restoring peace and stability to Afghanistan. He pointed out that in his first speech after the election, Imran Khan too talked about the importance of peace in Afghanistan for Pakistan,

“In the messages that came in the last 10 days, there seems to be a widespread hope for a breakthrough in Afghanistan … all factors are coming together, and there’s a possibility of Afghanistan moving towards a permanent peace and reconciliation,” he said. “And the two issues are linked because Pakistan’s economic prospects are weighed down by what’s happening in Afghanistan.”

The future finance minister also pointed out that Pakistan’s relationship with the world, in particular with the US, were seen — if not entirely, to a great extent – through the prism of Afghanistan.

“So, obviously it is a vital issue for Pakistan, both in the immediate future as well as in a longer term,” he said while explaining why he believed there’s room for optimism, at least on that front.

Noting that this sense of optimism was also felt in Imran Khan’s meeting with the acting US ambassador, the PTI leader said: “So, in that context, it’s a bit unfortunate that (US Secretary of State Michael) Pompeo decided to make the statement that he did even before we had the opportunity to go into a discussion on the IMF programme.”

The PTI government, he said, would follow a foreign policy of friendship with Pakistan’s neighbours, both east and west of the border. It would also like to rebuild Pakistan’s relationship with the United States, which was not just a superpower but also an old ally.

Similarly, he said, the next government would also like to further strengthen Pakistan’s relations with China.

China was the foremost on Imran Khan’s mind, as “he keeps talking about, how they lifted such a large number of people out of poverty”, Mr Umar said.

“We look forward to constructive relationships with all important countries and the US is the most important. But the PTI will not have “an either-or approach. We want good relations with both the US and China”.

Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2018

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Imran Khan and the military: Allies today, foes tomorrow?

Pakistan’s military, which helped Khan win the election, could one day pose the most serious threat to his premiership.

Al Jazeera
Supporters of Imran Khan celebrate near his residence in Bani Gala during the general election, in Islamabad, Pakistan July 25, 2018 [Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]
Supporters of Imran Khan celebrate near his residence in Bani Gala during the general election, in Islamabad, Pakistan July 25, 2018 [Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]

Two weeks after claiming victory in Pakistan’s July 25 election, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) on Monday announced that it secured the necessary majority in parliament to form a coalition government. However, the controversy surrounding the election has not yet subsided, and the legitimacy of any future PTI-led coalition government is still questionable.

Before the election, Pakistan’s powerful security establishment was accused of meddling in politics to pave the way for its favourite candidate, Imran Khan, to win. And events before the poll – arrests of several prominent members of the PML-N on corruption charges; the sentencing of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to prison less than three weeks before the poll and the sentencing of another top PML-N leader, Hanif Abbasi, to life in prison on drug smuggling charges just four days before the election – were seen by many as definitive proof that the establishment was targeting Khan’s opponents.


The many challenges awaiting Pakistan’s Imran Khan

Abbas Nasir
by Abbas Nasir

On Election Day, these accusations escalated from “possible attempts to influence the electoral process” to straightforward allegations of rigging, with at least six political parties alleging their representatives were not allowed to witness the counting process led by military personnel and other election officials, as mandated by law, and that the final counts were not properly documented. Also, there were questions surrounding the Results Transfer System (RTS), which had allegedly collapsed on election night, delaying the announcement of official results. Later, it has been revealed that the system had never collapsed, but the Election Commission simply – and suspiciously – ordered its employees to stop using the system.

Recount battles are still ongoing in several constituencies across Pakistan. The PML-N and other opposition parties already regained several seats as result of these efforts, and they vow to continue fighting until they reclaim all the votes they believe were stolen from them.

An opposition alliance

Moreover, on August 2, prominent opposition parties in Pakistan announced their decision to form a “Grand Alliance” and to protest inside and outside the parliament against the “rigged and manipulated” elections.

The alliance includes Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s PPP, jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N, the alliance of religious parties known as the MMA, Awami National Party, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, National Party Balochistan and Qaumi Watan Party. The alliance also announced that it will attempt to form its own coalition.

But despite the opposition’s efforts, Khan’s PTI was first to reach the finish line. It announced that it secured a majority in the parliament and is expected to form a coalition in the coming days. The way it secured a parliamentary majority, however, is also being questioned by many. It has been claimed that members of the security establishment pressured and/or offered serious money to some independent candidates to support the PTI.

Despite serious questions surrounding his electoral victory, it appears Khan is now fully ready to take the wheel of his country. The road ahead, however, remains bumpy and uncertain.

A fragile coalition

First of all Khan’s PTI will rely on the support of several former foes to form a coalition.

The Karachi based MQM, for example, will be in the ruling coalition, but cracks already started to appear between the two parties.

PTI Karachi head Firdous Shamim Naqvi said: “The alliance with MQM is not our choice, but we have made the alliance because of the compulsion to acquire simple majority in National Assembly to form the government.”

“We have not backtracked from our earlier position,” he added. “MQM has ruined Karachi and it has faced defeat in the general elections because of the poor performance of its mayor in Karachi.”

Khan tried to save the situation by condemning Naqvi’s statement, yet he failed to convince many as he had personally accused MQM leaders of threatening PTI workers and even killing activists only five short years ago.

The PML-Q, another group Khan and his party have a problematic history with, will also be part of the PTI-led coalition. Khan previously called the PML-Q members “murderers” and “the biggest dacoits in Punjab”.

Khan built a political career on viciously attacking his political rivals. Moreover, he has been encouraging his followers to pile vile abuse on anyone who criticized his politics for the last five years. Now he found himself in a grave situation where he needs the support of those he had abused and insulted in the past to rule Pakistan. With a powerful and seasoned coalition on opposition benches, it remains to be seen how long Khan’s unlikely coalition will stand before deep-rooted disagreements between its members start to resurface.

What next for Khan and the military?

The military, which is widely seen as having helped him win the election, will likely pose the biggest threat to Khan’s premiership.

Many expect Khan to assert his authority and start acting independently from the military after officially becoming Pakistan’s prime minister. Of course, such an attempt will land him in trouble with the security establishment, and most certainly bring an early end to his stint as Pakistan’s prime minister. If Khan refuses to toe the line, removing him from office will be no trouble for the military. With a simple nod to the MQM or the PMLQ, the military can easily instigate the collapse of his coalition government. Or he could be disqualified from office on the grounds of dishonesty, corruption or some other real or made up accusation.

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General Qamar Javed Bajwa

Khan may not even need to take a major stand against military strongmen to upset them. The military can decide to topple his government at any minute, even if he follows their instructions to the letter. None of the 17 prime ministers of Pakistan managed to serve a full term – the security establishment found a reason to overthrow even the most pliant, docile prime ministers such as Zafarullah Khan Jamali and Muhammad Khan Junejo in the past. So it is unlikely that Khan’s honeymoon period with the military will last long.

Continuation of pro-military, isolationist stances

In the last five years, Khan ran a divisive and aggressive campaign, adopting pro-military and isolationist stances and pandering to the religious far-right.

He attacked former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for attempting to improve Pakistan’s relations with India, and countered his efforts to reign in on Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai attacks. He also supported the military throughout the Dawn Leaks scandal, which disclosed that the former PM Sharif had ordered the military to cease its support for hardline groups.

Khan also appears to support the Afghan Taliban. His provincial government, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, granted $300,000 to the madrassa (Islamic religious school) of Sami-ul Haq, who is widely known as “the father of the Taliban” (in return Haq has formed an alliance with the PTI).

Only time will tell whether Khan will abandon these dangerous, isolationist and pro-military stances – as he indicated in his victory speech – and dare take constructive action to help elevate Pakistan’s international standing, improve its relations with its neighbours and save it from financial ruin. Unfortunately what is fairly certain is that if he does, his fate will be the same as all the other prime ministers of Pakistan. And after making bitter enemies of almost all prominent political forces in the parliament, there is scant hope that anyone will come to his help if and when he finds himself in trouble.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

Bring Pastor Andrew Brunson Home — “The Trump Administration needs a record of getting people back…”

August 7, 2018

Trump’s Americans First policy prioritizes freeing our citizens held hostage abroad.

Pastor Andrew Craig Brunson, escorted by Turkish plain clothes police officers, arrives at his house on July 25 in Izmir, Turkey.
Pastor Andrew Craig Brunson, escorted by Turkish plain clothes police officers, arrives at his house on July 25 in Izmir, Turkey. PHOTO:-/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

When the Wicked Witch meets Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” she demands the ruby red slippers the Kansas farm girl is wearing. The Good Witch advises Dorothy otherwise. “Their magic must be very powerful or she wouldn’t want them so badly,” she says.

The Magnitsky Act is something like those ruby red slippers. Originally passed by Congress in 2012 and named for the Russian accountant found dead in his jail cell after exposing fraud involving Russian officials, it authorized the president to block travel visas and freeze bank accounts of individual Russians deemed guilty of human-rights abuses. In 2016 it was expanded so it could be applied to other human-rights abusers anywhere in the world. We know its power the same way we know about the power of Dorothy’s red slippers: The bad guys obsess about it.

Plainly Vladimir Putin hates it. His representatives bring it up to American officials or would-be American officials any chance they get. This includes the infamous election-year Trump Tower meeting Donald Trump Jr. attended in expectation of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Now it’s the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who’s howling. This past weekend he declared the Maginstky sanctions “disrespectful.” He did so after Donald Trump ordered them slapped on two senior Erdogan officials—his justice and interior ministers—for their roles in the arrest and detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who is no longer in prison but remains under house arrest.

Unlike previous presidents, Mr. Trump has elevated the cases of Americans unfairly locked up abroad. For the moment, Mr. Erdogan is resisting. Turkey, he says, has never “bowed our heads to such pressure” and never will.

On Saturday, Mr. Erdogan announced Turkey would be retaliating with sanctions on two unnamed Trump officials, probably the attorney general and the secretary of homeland security. This gesture is all but meaningless unless Jeff Sessions or Kirstjen Nielsen have financial assets in Turkey or are itching to travel there.

We’ll see whether Mr. Erdogan changes his mind, but it’s encouraging to see the Magnitsky Act invoked on behalf of our fellow citizens. For today it isn’t just American trade that is global, it’s the American people. Though there are no hard figures on how many Americans live abroad, in 2016 the State Department reckoned it was at least nine million.

Add to this the millions more Americans who travel. Simply by being abroad, American citizens are more vulnerable to attack by terrorists or arbitrary arrest and detention by rogue regimes. The best way the U.S. government can help keep them safe is to make clear through word and deed that messing with the liberty of an American carries a high price.

Unfortunately, up to now apprehending and mistreating Americans has cost most nations very little. Iran is one of the worst offenders. Though most of the U.S. citizens detained in Iran were freed after the 2015 nuclear deal with the Obama administration, there was a notable exception: Robert Levinson. Secretary of State John Kerry failed to force Tehran to fess up about what happened to Mr. Levinson, a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran in 2007 while on a mission for the CIA.

When there are no consequences for arbitrarily throwing an American in jail, it creates an incentive for rogue regimes simply to take another American hostage whenever a new bargaining chip is needed. So even as five hostages were freed after the nuke deal, Iran now has in custody Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his ailing, 81-year-old father, Baquer Namazi, a former Unicef representative. The elder Mr. Namazi was arrested when he returned to Iran to try to secure his son’s release. The family is hoping Mr. Trump will make good on his campaign promise not to allow Iran to get away with such outrageous behavior.

The most notorious case was North Korea’s detention of student Otto Warmbier. Mr. Warmbier had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for trying to steal a propaganda poster. He was returned to the U.S. unconscious and unresponsive in June 2017 and died six days later. Since then, three other Americans held hostage in North Korea have been freed.

Amid the give and take of foreign policy, the plight of a single American can seem small and secondary. Look at Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally whose help and cooperation the U.S. needs in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. There are legitimate reasons to work toward good relations with Turkey.

But not if it means abandoning a fellow American held overseas to the tender mercies of some thug government. So good for President Trump for using the tools given to him by the Magnitsky Act on behalf of Pastor Brunson. If America First means anything, surely it means a recognition that insisting on consequences for anyone who harms an innocent American abroad isn’t an act of charity. It’s the foundation for a healthy U.S. foreign policy—and a much safer world.

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Germans debate return of military conscription and service for men and women

August 6, 2018

Germany’s ruling CDU party has launched a debate on reinstating military conscription and offering young men and women a chance to serve their country in other ways. A recent poll shows Germans are in favor of the idea.

Recruits of the Bundeswehr take part in the public vow

As the German military struggles to fill its ranks, representatives of Angela Merkel’s CDU party started a nationwide discussion on the return of mandatory military service.

The general conscription was scrapped in 2011 after Berlin decided to professionalize its troops. Prior to this decision, all young males were obligated to either serve in the nation’s military, the Bundeswehr, or perform an alternative service in civilian areas such as emergency management or medical care for a limited period of time.

Currently, the Bundeswehr consists only of career soldiers and long-term contract troopers, although the army still offers an option of short-term paid military service to young volunteers.

Read more: German army to get €4-billion spending boost

In a surprising move on Friday, however, the CDU Secretary General Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer pledged to “very intensively” discuss military service and mandatory conscription, according to the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).

Chance ‘to give something back’

Kramp-Karrenbauer said she had been touring the country and meeting CDU members to discuss ideas which would be presented at the CDU’s party conference in December. The topic of mandatory service apparently resonated with the conservative party’s base, which fears the loss of social cohesion.

The politician told FAZ she did not expect a simple reinstating of the military draft, but remained vague on specifics. “There are many possibilities to serve,” she later said on Twitter.

Other ranking CDU members were quick to back Kramp-Karrenbauer’s initiative, but kept equally vague on the details. The party’s youth wing leader Paul Ziemak spoke of a “community year” which would see young students take part in some sort of a mandatory service program. The term itself is a throwback to the “social year” which had been offered as an alternative to serving in the Bundeswehr.

Read more: Germany’s new volunteer military sees high dropout rate

“We live in a wonderful, affluent country,” the 32-year-old told Bild am Sonntag. “A community year gives the opportunity to give something back and, at the same time, to strengthen the country’s unity.”

‘Horrendous waste of money’

CDU lawmaker Oswin Veith commented that youths could serve with the Bundeswehr, but also with first responders or medical institutions. “It should last for 12 months and apply to young men and women over the age of 18,” he said. Several other CDU politicians also stressed the program would apply to both men and women.

Read more: Females in the ranks – ten years of armed women in the Bundeswehr

At the same time, CDU’s point man on defense in the German parliament, Henning Otte, responded with skepticism.

“Old-fashioned universal conscription is not going to help us with our current security challenges,” he said, adding that youths could serve in other areas, such as firefighting.

Some politicians from the SPD, the CDU’s junior partner in the grand coalition, said the idea was worth considering. Others, including the Parliamentary Commissioner for Defense, Hans-Peter Bartels, insisted that mandatory service would clash with Germany’s ban on forced labor.

“I think it is very unlikely to assign 700,000 young men and women every year to various mandatory assignments, as likable as this idea may sound,” he said.

The business-friendly FDP called the proposal “absurd” and warned of the “horrendous waste of money” it could bring. Other opposition parties in the parliament, the Left and the Green party, also oppose the idea.

At the same time, right-wing AFD came out in favor of reviving conscription. The position comes as no surprise, as the AFD previously floated the scheme. On Twitter, AFD’s parliamentary group leader Alice Weidel said the suspension was “a grave mistake.”

Alice Weidel

++ Ja zur ! ++
Die Aussetzung war ein grober Fehler. Sie muss aufgehoben und die wieder zu einem attraktiven Arbeitgeber werden, der seine originäre Aufgabe, nämlich die Landesverteidigung, wieder bewältigen kann.

Weidel added that the Bundeswehr needed to become “an attractive employer again” in order to be able to fulfill its defense duties.

Moving on AFD’s turf?

Some analysts have speculated that the CDU launched the initiative as a wayto wring conservative votes from the populist AFD.According to a recent online poll, the prospect of reinstating the military conscription is very popular among AFD supporters, with 60.6 percent of them saying they were “strongly in favor” of the idea.

Germans in general also support the draft, according to poll published by the survey center Civey. The poll, based on responses by 5,046 people between early May and early August, shows 55.6 percent are in favor of the idea, as opposed to 39.6 percent against it.

After discussing the draft on their party conference in December, the CDU is expected to make it a part of their platform for 2020.


See also:

1 in 10 German military pilots lost helicopter licenses for lack of flight time

Countries team up to save the liberal order from Donald Trump

August 3, 2018

The order we have known for the past 70 years has ended

As America retreats from global leadership, coalitions of the like-minded try to limit the damage

FOR the past four years senior officials from a group of leading democracies, calling themselves the “D10”, have quietly been meeting once or twice a year to discuss how to co-ordinate strategies to advance the liberal world order. Foreign ministry policy-planners and a few think-tank types would discuss responses to Russia, China, North Korea, Iran—but largely below the radar, so as not to be seen as a cabal of the “old West”. The idea has been to enhance co-operation among “a small number of strategically like-minded and highly capable states”, as Ash Jain, a former member of the State Department’s policy-planning staff, put it in a working paper in 2013.

Image result for trump at NATO, photos

But, at their next meeting, in Seoul in September, the D10 (America, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan, Australia and South Korea, plus the European Union) will have a new agenda item: America’s global role. Whereas the main threat to the rules-based order used to come from outside the leading democracies, some now fear it comes from within.

President Donald Trump’s hostilities on trade, his attacks on the policies of NATO allies and ditching of international agreements, such as the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal, have led even some of America’s closest partners to conclude that he wants to wreck the American-led world order forged after the second world war. Mr Trump himself has called the EU a “foe” on trade. Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, has spoken bluntly of trans-Atlantic relations: “With friends like that, who needs enemies?”

An overreaction, perhaps. Defenders of Mr Trump’s strategy say he is seeking not to bury the rules-based order but to reinvigorate it, by questioning the role of institutions that have become inefficient or ineffective. As supporting evidence, they can point to the ceasefire declared on July 25th in the trade war with Europe. Others suggest that things might revert to normal when someone new is in the White House.

Yet it would be risky to rely on the hope that Trumpism will pass. American ambivalence about multilateralism is not new. George W. Bush, for example, in his first year as president pulled back from half a dozen international agreements, including the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Kyoto protocol on climate change.

Around the world, the view that the change is both deep and lasting is gaining ground. A mere 9% of Germans think America under Mr Trump is a reliable partner for the security of Europe, according to a recent poll by ZDF Politbarometer. In Australia annual polling by the Lowy Institute, a think-tank, shows a 28-point fall since 2011 in the share of people who trust America to act responsibly; at 55%, trust in America is at a historic low, only just ahead of trust in China (52%). “The order we have known for the past 70 years has ended,” according to Allan Gyngell, a former head of Australia’s Office of National Assessments, Australia’s main intelligence agency. “It’s not changing. It’s over.”

The D10 framework “takes on even greater meaning at this time of uncertainty surrounding America’s global role,” believes Mr Jain, who runs the D10 initiative at the Atlantic Council, an American think-tank, in partnership with a Canadian counterpart, the Centre for International Governance Innovation. The liberal order it stands for has always been an amorphous concept. Now that it is at risk, huddling together both to define and defend it becomes more urgent. The D10 group is part of a broader trend of intensifying efforts to rally the “like-minded” to that end. Mr Trump’s America First approach is prompting policymakers from Canberra to Ottawa to cast around for coalitions to limit the damage of his onslaughts and, eventually perhaps, fill gaps left by an American retreat from its global role.

Crudely, these efforts to rally the like-minded come in four varieties. The first involves appealing to Americans beyond the Trump administration. Diplomats in Washington, DC, say defenders of the liberal order need to build support in Congress and to get on planes to other parts of the country and explain why the system Mr Trump is undermining has served America well. “Europeans need to engage, engage, engage: with Congress, with governors, with America’s business community and civil society,” wrote Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador who chairs the annual Munich Security Conference, in the New York Times on July 22nd.

Image result for Justin Trudeau, photos

Canada has been the most energetic in pursuing this strategy. Its ministers, mayors and diplomats have mounted a concerted effort at state and local level to draw attention to the American jobs and industries that depend on trade with Canada. This did not stop Mr Trump from slapping hefty metals tariffs on Canada and calling Justin Trudeau, its prime minister, “dishonest and weak” after the recent G7 summit he hosted. Canada’s “smooth” diplomacy, and the resulting stream of representations on its behalf to the White House, may even have ended up irking Mr Trump. Canadians must hope that in the long term the bottom-up approach will pay off.

But relying on popular support in America for its global role might be too optimistic. So a second approach to convening the like-minded—with a broader, international focus—is also being tried. Like a Davos for the once-powerful, this mission is attracting gaggles of global grandees, as ex-presidents, former prime ministers and retired diplomats lend their weight to the effort to save the world they used to run.

The D10 process has spawned a new, wider enterprise, called the Democratic Order Initiative, that seeks to engage the public behind support for the international rules-based system. Launched on June 23rd in Berlin by the Atlantic Council, with backing from Madeleine Albright (a former secretary of state), Stephen Hadley (a former American national-security adviser), Carl Bildt (a former prime minister and foreign minister of Sweden) and Yoriko Kawaguchi (a former Japanese foreign minister), it aims to articulate core principles of the rules-based order and mobilise public and official backing for them.

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Yoriko Kawaguchi

In the same vein, the Alliance of Democracies Foundation was set up last year to “strengthen the spines” of the world’s democracies. A brainchild of Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister and NATO secretary-general, it held an inaugural “Democracy Summit” in June and envisages annual winter gatherings in Colorado, as well as summer ones in Copenhagen. In the absence of clear ideological leadership from the White House, says Mr Rasmussen, the rest of the free world needs to advance and defend democracy.

The first initiative of the foundation’s global “campaign for democracy” is a Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity, to bolster defences against outside interference. It is co-chaired by Mr Rasmussen and Michael Chertoff, a former secretary of homeland security in America; Joe Biden, America’s former vice-president, is among the other 13 commissioners. They have urgent work to do. Mr Rasmussen points out that 20 elections will be held across EU and NATO countries between now and the next American presidential contest in November 2020.

Characteristically, it is France’s “Jupiterian” president, Emmanuel Macron, who has the most ambitious project. His Paris Peace Forum, to be held on November 11th-13th, is envisaged as an annual event bringing together governments and civic groups to discuss the world’s problems. The idea is to show that “there is still a constituency for collective action, among states and civil society…beyond populism and interstate tensions.”

Image result for Emmanuel Macron, photos

Mr Macron wants ideas from all sorts of organisations, including governments, business associations, NGOs, trade unions, religious groups and think-tanks. The model is COP21, the summit in 2015 that produced the Paris accord on climate change. Mr Trump has decided to pull America out of that agreement, which is itself an example of the third variety of effort behind like-mindedness: keeping international deals alive in America’s absence.

No country has followed America in abandoning the Paris accord. All the other 194 signatories are sticking with it, and hope America will one day rejoin the fold. Within America, state governments, cities and businesses have in many cases committed themselves to carbon reductions in the spirit of Paris.

European attempts to keep the Iran nuclear deal alive without America are proving trickier. The Trump administration wants to maximise economic pressure on the Iranian regime, and is threatening sanctions on international companies doing business with the country. Without the incentive of closer business ties to support its struggling economy, Iran could decide to abandon the nuclear self-restraint at the heart of the deal.

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However, the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal intended to set free-market rules for the region’s trade before China’s influence becomes overwhelming, has defied expectations. It has reinvented itself as an 11-country grouping after America, by far the biggest partner, decided to pull out when Mr Trump became president. Renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), it was signed in March in Chile and is expected to come into force around the end of this year, once at least six countries have ratified it. Similarly, some hope that, should Mr Trump’s distaste for the multilateral trading system lead to America’s quitting the World Trade Organisation, the global body could carry on without it.

Groping for groupings

Japan and Australia led efforts to keep the TPP alive. Both countries are also active in the fourth way of clubbing together: new coalitions between like-minded countries in the pursuit of shared interests, from trade to defence. On July 17th Japan signed a free-trade deal with the European Union, eliminating most tariffs and creating the world’s largest open economic area, covering over 600m people and nearly a third of global GDP. Negotiations quickened in response to America’s trade threats. Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, said at the signing ceremony in Tokyo that the deal “shows the world the unshaken political will of Japan and the EU to lead the world as the champions of free trade at a time when protectionism has spread.”

Australia has historically relied on a culturally similar foreign ally to guarantee regional security: first Britain, then America. China’s rise and America’s inward turn are concentrating minds. In “Without America: Australia in the new Asia”, an essay published last November, Hugh White of Australian National University (ANU) predicts a not-too-distant future in which China is Asia’s dominant power. But how to respond? “Our best hope”, suggests Michael Wesley, also of ANU, writing in Australian Foreign Affairs, “is not for some grand coalition to balance China but for each of China’s larger neighbours to assert its interests when they are challenged.”

Image result for Malcolm Turnbull,, photos

In the absence of a grand coalition, smaller ones may play a role in resisting an over-mighty China. In January when Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, visited Japan, the two countries pledged to deepen and broaden defence co-operation. A “reciprocal access agreement” is being concluded to allow joint military exercises. In July Australia, Japan and India held high-level trilateral talks in New Delhi, raising the possibility of joint naval exercises. Another trio involving Australia, includes France as well as India. In a speech at a naval base in Sydney in May, Mr Macron called for a “Paris-Delhi-Canberra axis” to become an established regional structure, with France, India and Australia defining a joint strategy for the Indo-Pacific. “If we want to be seen and respected by China as an equal partner,” he said, “we must organise ourselves.” He envisages regular trilateral talks between foreign and defence ministers.

Back in Europe, the French president is also trying to bring the like-minded together on defence. His European Intervention Initiative (EII for short) was signed into existence by nine countries, including Britain and Germany, in June. The idea is to improve strategic co-operation so that coalitions of willing European countries can be ready for joint action in crises, if need be without America.

Such coalitions raise many questions. One concerns their effectiveness. Innovations such as the EII may be good ideas, but the gap between strategic dialogue and coalitions in a military operational sense is a wide one. For that, points out François Heisbourg of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, you need both interoperability and agility. “You can’t just improvise, you have to have it built up.”

Does size matter?

Another reservation relates to the groups’ scale. Do they really amount to much? Even if they club together, for example, it is hard for other countries to match China’s clout in Asia. And there is no real substitute for America’s overall influence and power. The country spends more on defence than the next seven countries combined, produces 23% of global GDP (measured at market exchange rates) and has the world’s dominant currency. Still, Mr Rasmussen believes that a joint effort can make a difference while Mr Trump is president. “A group of midsized and wealthy democracies could join forces and protect the rules-based world order.”

How “like-minded” do countries need to be to work together? Canada and 16 Latin American countries have formed the “Lima Group” backing a restoration of democracy in Venezuela. They have blocked regional recognition of Venezuela’s vote for a Constituent Assembly last year and of a sham presidential election in May. Now, however, some wonder whether Mexico will retain its like-mindedness when Andrés Manuel López Obrador takes over as president in December, and whether Brazil will after its election in October.

Even in Europe, despite decades of working towards “ever-closer union”, discerning who is really like-minded is becoming harder, as populist forces have gained influence. In Italy, for example, the Five Star Movement that is now the largest party in the country’s coalition government has threatened to block the EU’s free-trade agreement with Canada. “Before thinking of defending the liberal order globally there’s a problem of defending it within the EU,” says Marta Dassù, of the Aspen Institute Italia.

In some cases, hard-headedness may be just as important as like-mindedness. A lot depends on what the common approach is trying to achieve. In the words of Donald Rumsfeld, when he was America’s defence secretary at the time of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, “the mission determines the coalition.”

Sometimes it may be enough to be only partially like-minded, in pursuit of a common interest. China, for example, is seeking to make common cause with the European Union in defence of the global trading order that has served both well. At a summit meeting with the European Union in Beijing in July President Xi Jinping said they should “join hands to defend multilateralism and a rules-based free-trade system”. The two sides issued a joint communiqué supporting the system, something that had eluded them in their two previous summits. It suits the Europeans to flirt with China, to show America that they should not be taken for granted.

Still, without common values, co-operation is likely to remain limited. The Europeans are far more worried about Mr Xi’s authoritarian ways than about Mr Trump’s tendencies—and they share Mr Trump’s objections to China’s own mercantilist policies. For Europe, “the temptation to enroll China into the like-minded is very dangerous,” warns Ms Dassù.

China shows that not all initiatives of the like-minded involve champions of the liberal order. It has become an institutional entrepreneur in an effort to shape the world to suit its interests. China has founded bodies such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the “16+1” gathering of 16 central and eastern European countries plus China, and the world’s largest regional grouping (in terms of its members’ combined population), the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (bringing together China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan). And Mr Xi’s flagship project is the Belt and Road Initiative, a sweeping plan to build infrastructure along China’s trade routes.

As America retreats, expect China to cultivate such networks even more energetically. “The world is moving towards multipolarity,” Mr Xi told the recent summit of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in Johannesburg. He appealed to a shared interest among this group in the evolution of the global governance system, championing the development of emerging markets. “We BRICS countries should…play a constructive role in building a new type of international relations,” he said.

The next few years are likely to see a boom in what might be called the like-mindedness industry. In the short term this is unlikely to impinge much on Mr Trump’s solipsistic world-view, let alone to alter his America First course. Other countries’ plurilateral initiatives will mostly be beneath his notice. But he might fight back against those that succeed in directly thwarting his intentions. The most obvious danger of a clash is over Iran, should the other parties to the nuclear deal manage to keep it afloat despite his attempt to scuttle it.

Like startups in the business world, many new coalitions of the like-minded will fail. But some could flourish. Mr Gyngell predicts that the current “hub and spoke” order will give way to a power grid in which “networks and links will be ever more important.” This effervescent, entrepreneurial period in global affairs could help to save the existing world order—or start to shape a new one.

This article appeared in the International section of the print edition under the headline “Picking up the pieces”
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