Another day in the American empire

American empire

While Washington D.C. is agog over the possibility of another government shutdown (whatever that means), American foreign policymakers appear to be unconcerned about that petty obstacle. The news is awash with foreign policy developments from around the world.

And never mind if the federal debt now exceeds U.S. annual GDP: there’s an empire to run!

Below is a survey of foreign policy stories that have been reported on just over the past few days.

Syria and Iraq

The U.S.’s involvement in Syria and Iraq continues to be disastrous. In 2017, U.S. and allied strikes may have killed up to 6,000 civilians in ISIS-controlled areas. However, notwithstanding ISIS’s significantly reduced presence in the region, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced American troops will remain in Syria. While he claims that “the conflict between the Syrian people and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has to be resolved through diplomatic means, and Assad has to step aside from power.”

While acknowledging that some Americans are skeptical of the continued military involvement in Syria, Tillerson said it’s vital for the U.S. be engaged in the area in order to continue fighting terrorist groups and the possibility of their resurgence.

“United States will maintain military presence in Syria, focused on ensuring ISIS cannot re-emerge,” Tillerson said. “Ungoverned spaces, especially in conflict zones, are breeding grounds for ISIS and other terrorist organizations. … The fight against ISIS is not over. … Similarly, we must persist in Syria to thwart al-Qaida, which still has substantial presence and base operations in northwest Syria.”

Tillerson said another major goal of the U.S. in Syria is to prevent Iran from growing its influence in the region, calling the country’s influence “malicious.”

So there you have it. American troops are going to allow Assad to peacefully step aside from power, confront ISIS, and prevent Iran’s influence from growing in the region. What could be simpler?

There are at least two major problems with Tillerson’s portrayal of the situation. First, in an interview with Scott Horton, Middle East correspondent Elijah Magnier argues that the American military has effectively become an “undeclared protector” of the Islamic State in the region. Second, the Trump administration quickly backtracked on its announced strategy in Syria in response to fierce objections by Turkey.

The U.S. military is swiftly backtracking from plans to build a 30,000-person border force in Syria after the proposal triggered a new diplomatic showdown with Turkey.

After earlier heralding the idea as a pillar of the Trump administration’s new Syrian strategy, U.S. officials on Thursday said the plan was poorly conceived and won’t proceed as previously outlined by the military.

The rapid reversal was a sign of the divisions in the Trump administration over how to move forward with its Syria strategy as the fight against Islamic State draws down.

“It’s unfortunate that the entire situation has been misportrayed, misdescribed, some people misspoke,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters late Wednesday night as he flew back to Washington after unveiling the administration’s new Syria policy in California. “We are not creating a border security force at all.”

Despite the U.S. reversal Turkish leaders said they remain skeptical of Washington’s Syria strategy.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Mr. Tillerson’s comments were insufficient and that Turkey would wait to see whether the U.S. continues training in Syria for Kurdish fighters that Ankara views as terrorists.

The Philippines

The Wall Street Journal reports on the U.S.’s increased counterterrorism efforts in the Philippines:

The U.S. military has launched a new counterterrorism mission in the Philippines, making operations there eligible for the same funding used to finance the long-running wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, military officials said.

The decision by the Trump administration to elevate the U.S. mission to an Overseas Contingency Operation, or OCO, was made last September in response to a Philippines government request for more support to fight extremist groups, officials said. The U.S.-backed Philippine military in October ousted Islamic State-affiliated insurgents from a city on the southern island of Mindanao after a five-month battle, but faces an enormous rebuilding task.

Between 200 and 300 American troops are currently serving in advisory roles in the country and officials said that number is likely to remain unchanged for now. In addition to advisory troops, technical support and equipment, the mission is providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance by drone.

So much for the thought that America’s …. challenging history on Mindanao, which began after the Spanish-American War, might temper its actions on that island.

Air Force to consider International Squadrons for Terror Targets

The American military’s increasing concern over the possibility of confronting Russia and China, however rational it may be, has forced it to consider how best to deploy assets in the most effective manner. To that end, The Wall Street Journal reports:

The U.S. Air Force is considering forming international squadrons of low-cost fighter planes to strike terrorist targets in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, allowing deployment of higher-tech jets to areas requiring their advanced capabilities.

A new unit employing relatively inexpensive off-the-shelf aircraft could free up cutting-edge U.S. and allied jet fighters for deterrence missions in Europe and Asia, and could help relieve a critical pilot shortage the U.S. Air Force faces, military and congressional officials say.

As the U.S. transitions its fighter fleet to new advanced stealth planes, like the F-22 and F-35, it is confronted with the difficult cost equation of using a fighter jet that costs $150 million to buy and $35,000 an hour to fly to destroy a terrorist camp of tattered tents.

Now, as Russia and China invest in their militaries and assert themselves more, the U.S. faces the additional problem of how and where to deploy limited numbers of stealthy warplanes to deter so-called peer competitors.

Ukraine

Meanwhile, the U.S.’s sock puppet government in Ukraine is making extremely dangerous moves that could led to a military confrontation with Russia.

As The Washington Post reports:

Ukraine’s parliament on Thursday passed a bill that is aimed at reintegrating the eastern territories currently controlled by Russian-backed separatists and goes as far as to declare support for taking them back by military force if necessary.

The bill describes the areas in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions as “temporarily occupied” by “aggressor country” Russia. President Petro Poroshenko welcomed the legislation, saying it would help restore control of the east by “political and diplomatic means.”

Russia warned, however, that it effectively kills the peace accords to which Ukraine is party and which were supposed to resolve the deadly conflict.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine, which erupted weeks after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, has killed more than 10,000 people since April 2014. The 2015 Minsk peace deal helped reduce the scope of hostilities, but clashes have continued and attempts at a political settlement have stalled.

The bill, passed by the Supreme Rada after days of raucous debate, contains no reference to the peace deal brokered by Russia, France and Germany that obliged Ukraine to offer a broad autonomy to the separatist regions and a sweeping amnesty to the rebels. Most Ukrainian political parties rejected that idea as a betrayal of national interests.

“We can’t embed diplomatic and political agreements that are prone to change into the Ukrainian legislation,” Ivan Vinnyk, a member of Poroshenko’s faction in parliament, said on Thursday while explaining why the Minsk deal was not mentioned.

In a terse statement issued after the vote, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the bill is nothing “but a preparation for a new war.” The ministry said the bill runs against Kiev’s commitments under the Minsk accord and further alienates Ukrainians living in separatist-held areas.

“Sadly, we are witnessing the making of a situation which is fraught with a dangerous escalation in Ukraine and [carrying] unpredictable consequences for global peace and security,” the Russian statement said.

Clearly, Ukraine’s military can not survive a conflict with Russia’s. The only reason its government has the nerve to make such a move is because it believes that, if war with Russia were to arise, the United States would support it militarily.

So much for the idea that Trump’s election would lead to improved relations with Russia.

These stories merely touch the tip of the imperial iceberg.

Given all of the moving parts, what could possibly go wrong?

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