By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
The American people ought to realize — and critically respond to — the dangers involved in two directions of national-security policy that their government is pursuing:
1) It is escalating the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (while extending its war in Afghanistan), and 2) discarding a previously espoused disarmament agenda in order to push a “massive modernization of nuclear-armed missiles, bombers and submarines,” to cost beyond $1 trillion over 30 years.
These are concerns not only of Americans. They also affect the rest of the world’s peoples.
Their grim implication: the US is pursuing a war without clear end, instead of — as Barack Obama had promised before becoming president in 2009 — getting the US out of its Iraq and Afghanistan wars (cost: $6 trillion) and seeking a “disarmament agenda that calls for an eventual end to nuclear weapons,” as the International New York Times remonstrates in a recent editorial.
Let’s look at these twin issues:
The war against ISIS: The Pentagon admits that in less than three months (August to mid-October 2014) America’s aerial-bombing war against the Islamic State had already cost $580 million. Number of air-strike sorties a week: 540 in Iraq, 450 in Syria.
Yet the bombings appear to have had minimal impact. Towards the end of November, the US shifted 12 A-10 ground-attack planes from Afghanistan to Kuwait from where they began bombing missions in early December. Another six missile-firing Reaper drones from Afghanistan will be added to the missions in the following weeks.
The escalation will increase the war’s financial cost, now at $2 billion-plus a year. And Obama has said the war against ISIS would take years!
But that’s not all. The aerial war needs ground-troop combat support, and the US has redeployed 3,000 troops in Iraq purportedly to organize and train Iraqi troops and militias to fight ISIS forces.
Actually, since April 2013 Obama had already authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to arm and train Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s rule. Recently he ordered a bigger Pentagon training program in Saudi Arabia for “vetted” rebels, aimed at deploying 5,000 yearly against ISIS forces.
The covert training program was designed in 2012 by then CIA director David Petraeus. Initially rejecting it, Obama had the plan revised and implemented to aid “moderate” rebels fighting Assad. This year the target was shifted to ISIS, which is also fighting Assad.
The program’s success, however, is now doubted because a CIA study, commissioned in 2012- 2013, discloses that many past CIA attempts to covertly arm foreign forces “had minimal impact on the long-term outcome of a conflict.”
Acknowledging these failures, Obama told the New Yorker:
“Very early in this process, I…asked the CIA to analyze examples of American financing and supplying arms to an insurgency in a country that actually worked out well. And they couldn’t come up with much.”
The study supposedly shows that CIA-backed counterinsurgency projects failed in instances where the local forces fought without any direct American support on the ground.
Would Obama then authorize US ground troops to fight alongside Iraqi troops and militias against the ISIS forces?
Note: In Mindanao, US military trainers and advisers have accompanied AFP troops in combat missions against the few-hundred Abu Sayyaf fighters in the last 12 years. Despite the much-vaunted killing of many of its alleged key commanders, the ASG hasn’t been subdued.
On US nuclear arms upgrading: As the CIA admits failures in its counterinsurgency projects, the Pentagon now confesses: the US nuclear weapons arsenal it manages is “near its breaking point,” worn down by years of neglect, lack of funding, and other problems.
The dire assessment leads to the recommendation of 100 “remedial steps” that would cost $10 billion for five years, in addition to $15-$16 billion yearly spending on new nuclear weapons.
In an INYT opinion piece, Center for a New American Security fellow Elbridge Colby bats for “recapitalizing” the nuclear arsenal. At its peak the recapitalization would take 7% of the US defense budget, mostly in the next 10-15 years.
Colby’s arguments for beefing up US nuclear capability:
• “America and the allies it has pledged to defend [including the Philippines?] face challenges from a resurgent Russia, an increasingly assertive China, a bellicose North Korea and a recalcitrant Iran.”
•“Non-nuclear military buildups, especially in Russia and China, are jeopardizing America’s conventional military advantages… that had until now allowed America to reduce its emphasis on its nuclear arsenal.”
• US “leading non-nuclear allies” clamor for building their own nuclear arsenals. “Together, these factors mean that the (US) nuclear arsenal is becoming more, not less, relevant.”
The INYT editorial counters Colby’s arguments, pointing out that: 1) the nuclear weapons arsenal “far exceeds [US] security needs”; and 2) the arsenal is now less central to national security, and has “no role in defending the country against big threats, like terrorism and cybersecurity.”
It concludes with this sober advice:
“Mr. Obama still has time to advance the sensible disarmament agenda he once espoused. That will mean more honest discussion of the diminished importance of nuclear weapons. It will also require more spending on security and management of the existing program and less spending on pointless new weapons systems.”
* * *
Published in The Philippine Star
December 6, 2014