William Pfaff is the author of The Irony of Manifest Destiny, published in June 2010 by Walker and Company (New York) -- his tenth and culminating work on international politics and the American destiny. He describes the neglected sources and unforeseen consequences of the tragedy towards which the nation's current effort to remake the world to fit America's measure is leading. His previous books and his articles in The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and his syndicated newspaper column, featured for a quarter century in the globally read International Herald Tribune, have made him one of America's most respected and internationally influential interpreters of world affairs.   [Read more...]
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Columns : Obama War Strategy
on 2014/10/15 15:10:00 (944 reads)

Paris, October 15, 2014 --Last Sunday, President Barack Obama’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice was questioned on NBC about the American administration’s war strategy concerning the Islamic State in Syria, the aggressive and messianic self-proclaimed New Islamic Caliphate. Does a strategy exist; she was initially asked, since there are, to put it mildly, doubters among the crowd. She firmly replied that there is indeed a strategy, stated by the president, which is to degrade and ultimately “destroy” ISIS (or ISIL, which is the acronym apparently preferred at the White House).

However, to destroy ISIS is not a strategy; it is an objective. The strategy is what gets the new international coalition (a doubtful quantity thus far) formed by the U.S. from here to there. She described the strategy as forming the coalition (already done by the United States, which has appointed itself the coalition’s leader, although it has not yet been made clear what the leader will do, beyond carrying out air strikes against ISIS.)

What she emphatically stated was what it will not do, which is to send ground forces to fight the war. This is not entirely true, since there has already been a certain deployment of auxiliaries and counselors, and U.S. attack helicopters reportedly have been in action near Baghdad.

Ms. Rice then stated that the ground war must be fought by Iraq. “It’s got to be the Iraqis,” she said. “This is their fight. This is their territory.” She added that even in the past, “when we had over 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, it still came down to whether the Iraqis were willing and able to fight for their own country.” This is a sensitive point, because when Iraq’s army initially clashed with the ISIS offensive a few weeks ago it spectacularly fell apart, its commanders prominent among those who fled the field.

Columns : Questions about a New War
on 2014/10/8 13:00:00 (1434 reads)

Paris, October 8, 2014 -- The decision of President Barack Obama to wage air war against ISIS, while leading an as yet nebulous — militarily speaking — new coalition of Arab and other ground forces, against what claims to be the New Islamic Caliphate still is swimming in a sea of confusion and doubt.

What does he think will be accomplished? Who is going to fight this war (rather than just bomb it)? History says that an asymmetric war has never been won by airpower alone.

Moreover, is anyone sure who the players really are? Turkey still is in an ambiguous position although defending its own crucial border, across which jihad volunteers and ISIS supplies have passed. What is its objective in this war, as an increasingly fundamentalist and predominantly Sunni state, as well as a NATO member? What would an enlarged Turkish role in the war mean for NATO?

I see virtually no interest in Western Europe in sending ground forces to fight ISIS. The only substantial ground army is France’s, tied up in Central and Northern Africa for the past year, where jihadists armed from Libya’s abandoned stocks are active (and now declaring “caliphates” of their own).

Columns :  China's Fate
on 2014/10/1 16:30:00 (971 reads)

Paris, October 1, 2014 --The surprising strength of the "umbrella" protests now taking place in Hong Kong presents a crucial test for the ruling Communist Party. Its leadership professes confidence in the future but behind the scenes the country is approaching the brink of the unresolved crisis that threatens the nature of its political system.

The Chinese Communist government may be said to confront three current challenges. The first is easiest and comes from the island entities and states in southern Chinese waters who challenge China’s claim to complete sovereignty in the region, comparing its rivals there with the minor states and monarchies that in the past recognized the supremacy of the Middle Kingdom and paid tribute to it.

In the long term China’s leaders assume that such a relationship with its China Sea neighbors can eventually be restored, and this seems not unlikely. Vietnam, which seceded from China in the 10th century AD, would seem the most likely to maintain its independence.

The second threat is a great rival state of its own rank capable of challenging its government and imposing its own sovereignty or dynasty. I would think that China has only faced such a challenge from peoples on its periphery in a time of troubles, imposing themselves upon a dynastic rule no longer capable of defending itself, as from Manchuria or descending from Central Asia. The obvious recent case was that of the Manchus, who ruled from the 17th to 20th centuries.

Today such a “great rival state” is the United States, a threat because of its immense military and economic strength and its Pacific deployment by way of bases and major allies. But it is difficult to see any reason for a war of aggression. Even with success it is hard to see what advantage an aggressor would achieve -- only the burdens of a military occupation which inevitably would be limited in scope, if possibly lengthy. In the end it would undoubtedly fail because of what might be called the civilizational incompatibility between China and the United States. In the case of Japan this cultural incompatibility does not exist, but it seems improbable that Japan in the future — because of the differences in population and geographical size — would ever again enjoy the immense power advantage over China that it did in the 1930s and 1940s.

Columns : More on ISIS
on 2014/9/24 14:50:00 (1067 reads)

Paris, September 24, 2014 -- The Mideast horrors grow. Latest are the Syrian Kurds, in unthought-of numbers, in flight to Turkey, where there already are more than a million refugees from Syria. As if the region were not already thick with refugees from the terrorism practiced by one side or another. But in the next 24 hours there was a reversal, with Kurdish peshmergas heading back across the border to fight the ISIS forces.

Harboring the refugees, getting aid and shelter to them, is a worthier and more urgent cause than airstrikes on ISIS, deserved as these strikes are. Cutting off the heads of aid workers and journalists is nothing in comparison with the degradation and dehumanization being inflicted on the pathetic people of the Middle East by all sides.

The Congress tells President Barack Obama to do something — while reluctant itself to do anything but excoriate the president and party rivals. Let them declare war if they want war. The president says that the United States will halt and “destroy” the Islamic State, which makes the Congress feel more righteous because it sounds like the declaration of war they have yet to supply.

But the number of nations signing up with John Kerry to “support” war on the ground while the United States “leads” from Washington is modest, and Congress is largely uninterested in declaring another war with elections awaiting them in a few weeks.

Columns : Hysteria over ISIS
on 2014/9/17 13:40:00 (1815 reads)

            Paris, September 17, 2014 – A hollow laugh might be permitted at the alliance now announced  as the result of Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest journey through the Middle East, this time to construct an alliance to counterattack the latest Arab menace to America, ISIS.          
President Barack Obama and his travel-weary Sancho Panza, John Kerry, are assembling a coalition “of the willing” to deal with the self-proclaimed new Islamic Caliphate and its singularly bloodthirsty leader, again self-appointed, the Emir Abou Bakr al–Baghdadi. 
Mr. Kerry came to Paris following his journey with a list of nations ready to contribute  “as appropriate.”   American officials say some but not all on the list would be willing to conduct military action itself.  France says it will join in the bombing, but Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, who already has engaged non-combat aerial assistance, is reluctant to join in what the military are disposed to call  “kinetic”  action, meaning high explosives.  Australia, in no noticeable danger, nevertheless is sending not only aircraft but some ground troops.

To date, Iran is the only country in the region actually fighting against ISIS on both fronts, the one in Syria defending Bashar Assad’s government, which Iran has supported since the beginning of the uprising in Syria, and the other front in Iraq opposing the Sunni ISIS.  On the face of it, this suggests that a strategic alliance of Iran with the United States might benefit both.

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