If anything, Israel’s willingness to directly engage Iranian and Iranian-backed forces in Syria has only increased after since Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal. There is no doubt that the US President’s decision reflected animus toward his predecessor’s signature achievement in foreign policy. Hate follows and rationalizes fear, not the other way around. In Blood Year, David Kilcullen provides a wide-angle view of the current situation in the Middle East and analyzes how America and the West ended up in such dire circumstances. Fear of other groups, encroachment of those groups into one’s territory and collapse of confidence in government’s ability to impartially keep the peace are the key factors that provoke communal violence. Likewise, taking a strategy such as offshore balancing, however successful it might prove to be in the Middle East, and blindly applying it on the Korean peninsula or in Europe, where conditions are dramatically different, would be full of risk. Conservative Christian politicians imposed upon us an expensive, unnecessary and bitterly divisive plebiscite on same-sex marriage which took forever. If violence does spread, it will not be a re-run of the American Civil War. And if you have ever wondered how this blog got its title, here is Why :In That Howling Infinite”? Thus, far from being a purely right-wing phenomenon, rifts within US society that are most stressed by the coronavirus — urban versus rural interests, racial and class tensions, state overreach versus anti-government militancy, far left against alt-right, “collectivist” coastal elites versus rugged individualists in “flyover country” – align with pre-existing grievances. Starting as rioting in Bogota — driven by pre-existing urban-rural, left-right, class and racial divisions — violence spread to the countryside as the two main political parties, the Colombian Liberal Party and the Conservative Party, mobilised rural supporters to attack each other’s communities. That’s why Baradar’s release by Pakistan last October — and his participation in the most recent talks in Doha last month, by far the most productive to date — was such a big deal. The autocrats are firmly back in the saddle from anarchic Libya and repressed Egypt to Gulf monarchs and Iranian theocrats. In essence, he argues, three new factors are driving the latest set of developments. So, time will tell, but at this point, colour me sceptical but not entirely cynical about prospects for peace in Afghanistan. If we visualise an armed movement as a pyramid, then the thousands of protesters on the street (and the tens of thousands who support and sympathise with them but stay home) represent the mass base. Indeed, In fact, the proportion of the country under the full control of the elected, American-backed government is humiliatingly small. Still, despite the ongoing condemnation from the policy establishment and allies alike, Trump’s decision to exit the Iran deal may indicate something deeper than mere ill-informed petulance — and if a strategy of offshore balancing does emerge, it just may point the way to disengagement from the post-9/11 wars, a goal that every president since 2001 (including George W. Bush himself, since about five minutes after his “mission accomplished” speech in May 2003) has sought but failed to achieve. This could draw Israel into more direct conflict with Iran — indeed, one possibility here is that Israel is deliberately escalating conflict with Iran in order to increase its leverage in post-nuclear-deal Washington. The decision to dump the deal is far from the only indicator. Audio and a transcript will be (but as of this writing are not yet) available here. While many in Washington see Chinese influence in Afghanistan as a threat, in fact a greater Chinese role in the region is probably inevitable in the long term and is likely to be quite constructive. Even if it were morally and politically possible to work with his regime for the greater goal of destroying Islamic State, the man simply can’t do the job. Knocking out Khan Sheikhoun from the air would immediately collapse the rebel salient, letting the regime stabilise the front line. McCormick's model shows the interplay among the actors: insurgents, government, population and external organizations. He studied counterinsurgency as a cadet at Royal Military College in Duntroon, the Australian Army's officer training establishment. A more serious criticism, from the few analysts who have yet commented on the emerging strategy, is that Trump is too mercurial and strategically illiterate, and his administration too incoherent, to enact this kind of strategy. Trump doesn’t seem to care much about the first issue, and his answer to the second is that if an attack took place, he would order massive retaliation. But this highlights another risk factor for 2020: the possibility of foreign interference astride the upcoming presidential election. But our particular favourite is Deep in the Heart of Texas, a review of an article in The New Yorker by Lawrence Wright. Poetry offerings included the reblog of Liverpudlian Gerry Cordon’s selection of poetry on the theme of “undefeated despair”: In the dark times, will there also be singing? Until a week ago, Trump’s Syria policy was to downplay any call for regime change, acquiesce in the permanence of Assad’s regime and collaborate with Putin against Islamic State. For most Syrians I’ve spoken to, the idea that anyone engaged in the uprising since 2011 would sit down again under Assad is ludicrous, and many have told me the biggest winner so far isn’t Islamic State but al-Qa’ida, through its Nusra affiliate. Likewise, independent-minded UN ambassador Nikki Haley will need to collaborate more closely with the State Department and the White House than she has done to date. Any departure from the Taliban’s barbaric version of Islam, such as dancing or shaving or educating girls, could earn floggings, imprisonment or even death. The latter, whilst not as original, eye-catching and exhilarating as its parent, was nevertheless a cinematic masterpiece. We reprised Tales of Yankee Power – how the songs of Jackson Brown and Bruce Cockburn portrayed the consequences of US intervention in Latin America during the ‘eighties. The US and China are fast descending into a new cold war, as recriminations over the pandemic heighten conflicts that were already acute. This is no longer the case: given rising civilian casualties, the high loss rate of Afghan forces, the deadly string of Taliban bombings now afflicting Afghan cities and the fact that the Taliban are now capturing and briefly holding provincial capitals every few months, the Kabul government wants to reduce the war to a far lower level of intensity. Thus, for the allies, whether the war is won or lost is, strictly speaking, irrelevant: having succeeded in being seen as a valuable ally, the only thing that could now undo that success would be to leave before the US does. The final new factor is that Pakistan seems to have finally decided its interests are best served by peace in Afghanistan — hence the release of Baradar and the willingness to support talks. Assad’s regime has shown no compunction in using nerve agents when its survival is at stake, but otherwise it mostly keeps chemical weapons as a hip-pocket emergency reserve that can be rapidly deployed when manpower is short. Offshore balancing does not preclude periodic interventions to restore a favourable balance of power in a given region, but it does tend to rule out long-term occupation or decisive commitments of the post-9/11 kind. ; a fiftieth anniversary tribute to Liverpool poets Roger McGough, Adrian Henri and Brian Patten, Recalling the Mersey Poets; and musical settings to two of our poems, the aforementioned Oh, Jerusalem, and E Lucevan Le Stelle. It also highlights the comfort of many progressive interventionists (including Kerry, but also Hillary Clinton) with unilateral American use of force — provided it is sanctified by humanitarian principles such as “responsibility to protect”. David Kilcullen was one of the architects of America's strategy in the late phases of the second Gulf War, and also spent time in Afghanistan and other hotspots. The folk who brought you the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan are back, and are keen to attend to unfinished business: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/donald-trump-100-days-in-office-foreign-policy-war-air-strikes-syria-afghanistan-north-korea-a7707946.html, David Kilcullen. As a Christmas treat, we reblogged English music chronicler Thom Hickey’s lovely look at the old English carol The Holly and the Ivy, And finally, for the last post of this eventful year, we selected five christmas Songs to keep the cold winter away. In “contested areas” — where the territories of left and right-wing militants overlap — we can expect violence irrespective of the outcome. European politicians condemned the decision and began working on ways to keep Iran in the deal, while in the US former secretary of state John Kerry engaged in last-minute direct negotiations with Iranian leaders. All we can conclude from the available evidence is that the risk is real and growing. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Saudi crown prince seem to have successfully sold Trump on their expansive vision of the Iranian threat, creating the possibility that Washington may be manipulated into decisions that run counter to its own wider interests. The reason for this change might partly be the new, tougher line on Pakistan adopted by the Trump administration, or a policy shift by the civilian administration in Islamabad. No coalition partner would be fighting in Afghanistan without Washington, and none can win or lose the war on its own. Westworld scored a post of its own on this blog – see below. Then there is the reblog of New York author Joseph Suglia’s original comparison between Donald Trump’s White House and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Given his generally mercurial approach to foreign policy and the fact that he has indeed ordered strikes in Syria and raids in Yemen and Africa, this threat is probably credible enough to give the Taliban pause — and, more importantly, reassure some in Kabul. Here is where you can find videos of their latest shows and songs new and old. In the dark times, will there also be singing? See also, Salon’s piece on the subject of America’s militias,  Soldiers of the Boogaloo -the far rights plans for a new civil war and the Washington Post’s  What is antifa and Why does Donald Trump want to blame if for the violence in the US? A smaller group of organisers and support networks (physical and virtual) plays an auxiliary role further up the pyramid. Sailing to Byzantium reviews Aussie Richard Fidler’s Ghost Empire, a father and son road trip through Istanbul’s Byzantine past. And fear of the coronavirus, alongside the demonstrable inability of government to keep people safe, is driving today’s growth in armed militancy”. But in many ways it poses a much more severe threat to the regime than Baghdadi’s group. Co-operation between Saudi and Israeli forces (even tacit) would be highly controversial within Saudi Arabia and could prompt sharply increased internal unrest. According to a biographical note in one of his papers, Kilcullen was an advisor with Indonesian forces from 1994 to 1995 and 'was operations officer of the Peace Monitoring Group in Bougainville during the final stages … Thus, the real missed opportunity of 2013 lay in a failure to understand the regime’s motive in using chemical weapons: as a last resort, when a victorious coalition of mostly secular rebel groups was threatening the eastern suburbs of Damascus, making significant gains in the regime’s heartland and jeopardising its survival. At the same time, statements by Saudi Arabia and the UAE indicate that the Sunni monarchies and their Gulf allies would consider participating in an Arab stabilisation force in Syria. And we took an enjoyable journey into the “Celtic Twilight” with the rousing old Jacobite song Mo Ghille Mear – a piece that was an absolute pleasure to write (and, with its accompanying videos, to watch and listen to). Our parliamentarians then insisted on dragging the whole sorry business out for a fortnight whilst they passed the legislation through both Houses of Parliament in an agonizingly ponderous pantomime of emotion, self-righteousness and grandstanding. Whilst a American force that once reached 140,000 soldiers America could not wipe out the Taliban, a mere 13,000 troops bolstering the Afghan army today, seems capable keeping the Taliban more or less in check. A former soldier and diplomat, he served as a senior advisor to both General David H. Petraeus and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, one of his themes on the campaign trail was the need to get out of overseas commitments, bring troops home, force allies to commit their own resources to their defence, cease putting American lives at risk to provide security guarantees for countries (in Europe, Asia or the Middle East) that were unwilling to pay their fair share, and stop spending money on nation-building that would be better used at home. The rise of militias and armed protesters across the US is sometimes seen as a fringe right-wing issue, but it is much broader. The frail, overcrowded boats still bob dangerously on Mediterranean and Aegean waters, and the hopeful of Africa and Asia die hopelessly and helplessly. At least one person has been killed in the riots and the Minnesota National Guard is expected to join the police in attempting to restore order. From 1944 to 1992, despite periodic interventions (a CIA-backed coup in Iran in 1953, brief engagements in Lebanon in 1958 and 1983, bombing Libya in 1986) the US generally kept its military out of the region, preferring to counter Soviet influence through partners such as Israel, Turkey, the Arab monarchies, the Afghan mujaheddin in the 1980s and, until 1979, the shah of Iran. The new approach may signal the re-emergence of Washington’s former strategy of working through regional coalitions to counter rivals in the ­Middle East, thereby enabling US military disengagement from the post-9/11 wars. Again, this puts pressure on Taliban negotiators to find a solution. A Taliban victory would be problematic for Pakistan, as would an outright Taliban defeat, so keeping the war on a low boil and letting parts of Pakistan become a haven for the Taliban has made sense through much of the war since 2001. After weeks of preparation they launched a major offensive on March 21 with more than 5000 well-armed and well-organised fighters from seven rebel groups operating under Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Jolani. Bad timing and miscalculation can increase the risk of wars that the US neither wants or is prepared for. David John Kilcullen FRGS is an Australian author, strategist, and counterinsurgency expert who is currently the non-executive Chairman of Caerus Associates, a strategy and design consulting firm that he founded. and a cavalcade of well cast, well-written and original characters. Membership surged after the 2008 financial crisis, then accelerated as thugs from both political extremes fought each other with baseball bats, ­bicycle chains and pepper spray in the streets of Washington, DC, Seattle, Portland and Detroit. The US is now endeavouring to come to a peace deal with the Taliban, and its efforts are all the more urgent in the wake of President Trumps decision to extricate American troops from this expensive and dangerous entanglement. His comment after his trial — that the 19 children killed, of 168 dead and 680 injured, were “collateral damage” — highlighted his military mindset and intent to trigger an anti-­government uprising. And, perhaps, as Beirut-based correspondent for The Independent, Robert Fisk suggests in his own interpretation of the events, Vladimir Putin: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/donald-trump-syria-air-strike-missile-airbase-chemical-attack-russia-balance-power-bashar-al-assad-a7673166.html. This goal, too, was achieved as soon as coalition forces entered Afghanistan: our hypothetical cynic might observe that we gain “alliance points” simply by being there and doing a decent job. David Kilcullen, counter-insurgency expert and former soldier, diplomat, and policy adviser for the Australian and U.S. governments. Its disadvantage is that interventions, when they do occur, can be extremely costly. But the callousness of McVeigh’s attack made most militias condemn him, and — by ­tarnishing the self-perceived righteousness of their anti-­government cause — undermined the movement he hoped to inspire. Though Trump is as much a symptom as a cause of America’s toxic polarisation, the passions he inspires among friend and foe alike have exacerbated it: during the 2016 election campaign, ­Arizona militias mounted armed patrols to support his border wall. And yet, the non-compulsory vote produced a turnout much greater than the U.K. and US elections and the Brexit referendum, and in the end, over sixty percent of registered voters said Yes. He also was a special adviser for counterinsurgency to former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. During the Iraq War, he served in Baghdad as a member of the Joint Strategic Assessment Team, then as Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor, Multi-National Force Iraq in 2007, … Five Republican members of Congress from Ohio voted Wednesday evening to reject an Electoral College certification, an action taken hours after … This was also before Russia’s intervention improved Syrian air defences and complicated targeting by putting Russians on to key regime sites, and before the presence of more than 1500 Western ground troops in Syria made it possible for the regime to easily retaliate. The sacking of secretary of state Rex Tillerson and national security adviser HR McMaster in March has removed competing power centres in US foreign policy, while former CIA director Mike Pompeo (Tillerson’s replacement as Secretary of State), and Defence Secretary James Mattis appear more than capable of executing an offshore balancing strategy. 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