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Diplomacy & Crisis News

Sisi Is Leaving the Sick to Suffer in Egypt’s Prisons

Foreign Policy - Wed, 01/09/2021 - 15:17
The Egyptian government has deliberately let a former presidential candidate languish behind bars without proper medical care.

Netanyahu Is Gone. Netanyahu-ism Still Reigns.

Foreign Policy - Wed, 01/09/2021 - 14:51
When it comes to policies Washington cares about, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his predecessor are practically the same.

Can Biden Give Zelensky What He Wants?

Foreign Policy - Wed, 01/09/2021 - 12:04
As the two leaders meet in Washington, Ukraine is on edge.

Climate and weather related disasters surge five-fold over 50 years, but early warnings save lives - WMO report

UN News Centre - Wed, 01/09/2021 - 09:35
Climate change and increasingly extreme weather events, have caused a surge in natural disasters over the past 50 years disproportionately impacting poorer countries, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) said on Wednesday.

Africa’s Disappointed Demographic

Foreign Policy - Wed, 01/09/2021 - 09:00
Young people across the continent have been hit hard by the pandemic, lockdowns, and economic stagnation—but their protests have largely been ignored by elderly elites.

Cold War History: How Russia Almost Built a Supersonic Amphibious Bomber

The National Interest - Wed, 01/09/2021 - 04:00

Michael Peck

Bombers, Eurasia

Why was this Soviet wonder weapon passed over?

Here's What You Need to Know: The M-70 was the wave of the future—until ICBMs came along.

With airline passengers crammed like sardines, it’s hard to remember there was a time when airliners were more like ocean liners. In the 1930s, seaplanes were queens of the sky. Clipper seaplanes like the Boeing 314 were the 747s of the era, carrying passengers on long flights across the Atlantic and Pacific.

Today seaplanes seem an anachronism—cute flying machines that haul tourists in remote places like Alaska. But for a period during the early Cold War, those floating flying machines would have been dropping nuclear bombs over America and Russia.

Seaplanes have always had a military dimension. In World Wars I and II, cruisers and battleships carried them for scouting and to spot the fall of the ship’s gunfire. Long-range floatplanes like Japan’s Kawanishi H8K could fly 4,500 miles across the Pacific. Before there were search-and-rescue helicopters, the sight that downed Allied pilots or shipwrecked sailors most longed to see was the beloved PBY Catalina taxiing across the water to rescue them. If no airfield could be found in the vast expanses of the Pacific, then a seaplane tender could always anchor at some little island and function as a floating airbase for a flock of floatplanes.

But after 1945, the military seaplane, with its cumbersome floats (the Catalina was nicknamed the “Dumbo”) began to be replaced by long-range jet aircraft as well as helicopters. Nonetheless, both superpowers pursued amphibious strategic bombers.

The United States had its Martin P6M SeaMaster, a subsonic strategic bomber with a speed of almost seven hundred miles per hour and a range of 750 miles. Several aircraft had been built, and the SeaMaster was within a few months of deployment, when the program was canceled in 1959.

Not to be outdone, the Soviets conceived their own project in 1955. The Myasishchev M-70 would not just have been an amphibious nuclear-armed bomber: it would have been supersonic as well. Authors Yefim Gordon and Sergey Komissarov, in Unflown Wings: Soviet/Russian Unreleased Aircraft Projects 1925-2010, the authoritative tome of Soviet aircraft that never left the drawing board, state the M-70’s mission would have been to:

perform cruise missile attacks or conventional bomb strikes on enemy shipping, reconnoiter targets for Soviet submarines (with which it could also rendezvous when operating far from the shore), refuel from a submarine, find its target at altitudes close to the service ceiling when in very hostile airspace and launch a cruise missile at supersonic speeds in any weather, day or night, throughout its altitude envelope.

When the Myasishchev design bureau said its seaplane-bomber was high-flying, it wasn’t joking. One version of the M-70 would have launched cruise missiles from seventy thousand feet, another variant from fifty-five thousand feet. Speed would have been between 1,100 to 1,500 miles per hour (between Mach 1 and 2), with a range of almost five thousand miles. This would have been in line with 1950s bomber design, which emphasized high-altitude and high-speed attack to escape interception, until the advent of surface-to-air missiles in the 1960s encouraged low-level attack.

The M-70 never actually flew, but Unflown Wings has two photos of a small display model. The M-70 would have been a graceful, streamlined, needle-nosed aircraft with two engines on top of the wings—generally a good idea for jets floating in the water—and two more high up on the tail. Particularly distinctive is the undercarriage, which would have consisted of a retractable nose ski and wingtip skis, as well as a retractable hydrofoil under the fuselage. The three-man aircraft would have refueled by submarine; in fact, the plan would have been to build several tanker subs that would probably have resembled the Nazi “milk cow” subs that refueled German U-boats.

Unfortunately for the M-70, Myasishchev was also designing two land-based supersonic bombers that could also fly about five thousand miles, and some managers at the design bureau worried that a seaplane-bomber could never match the aerodynamic performance of its landlubbing counterparts. For targets closer to the Soviet Union, within two thousand miles or so, regular land-based bombers or cruise missiles would suffice.

But it was ballistics that really killed the M-70, and most of the other exotic bomber concepts of the 1950s and early 1960s. Or more specifically, ballistic missiles with intercontinental flight times that could span continents in minutes rather than hours.

A nuclear warhead for the first Soviet ICBMs had been tested in May 1957, and “this suggested that spending money on large and expensive supersonic flying boats and bombers could be a huge waste,” according to Gordon and Komissarov.

It was the swan song for the floating bomber.

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

This article first appeared in September 2016.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The ‘Enhanced’ Unemployment Benefits Run Out in Just One Week 

The National Interest - Wed, 01/09/2021 - 03:33

Stephen Silver

economy, Americas

Those people who have collecting benefits are being advised to step up their job searches. 

One of the key benefits of the American Rescue Plan Act that passed in March was “enhanced” unemployment benefits, which continued a policy first put in place by the CARES Act.

Those benefits, throughout the year, have helped many families, but they have also been blamed for the labor shortages that have occurred around the country. This was enough to move twenty-six states, more than half of the country, to opt-out of those benefits over the summer.

Whether the enhanced unemployment benefits are to blame for the labor shortages is something that has been debated by economists. One study found that the slashing of the benefits led to a $2 billion drop in spending. Meanwhile, there were reports, questioned by many, that as much as $400 billion in unemployment benefit money was stolen, some of it by international criminal syndicates. 

At any rate, the enhanced unemployment payments are nearing their end, as the enhanced benefits are statutorily scheduled to expire on September 6.

“The U.S. economy has rapidly improved since last year’s pandemic-related fall out, with experts expecting the fastest rate of growth in four decades,” Bankrate reported this week, ahead of the scheduled expiration. “Even as job openings surge to new records and firms echo concerns of labor shortages, the job market still has 5.7 million fewer jobs than before the outbreak. Virus and child care concerns are keeping workers on the sidelines and the areas where jobs were lost aren’t exactly where they’re returning.” 

Bankrate also offered some advice for beneficiaries as to how to handle the end of enhanced unemployment benefits. 

Among the advice is that benefices should know which program their benefits are through. Also, they should budget wisely, do a credit card balance transfer in order to reduce interest payments, try to save as much money as they can, and try to take advantage of “goodwill” programs offered by lenders and other companies. 

Those people who have collecting benefits are being advised to step up their job searches. 

“Look for any viable means of generating income, including finding another job,” Mark Hamrick, Bankrate’s senior economic analyst, said in the in-house Bankrate article. “Some businesses and sectors are faring better than others right now.”

Those people who have been getting the benefits are asked to “seek assistance from charities, local nonprofits, family members, and also to mark sure they are withholding taxes from unemployment.” And they should also be following events in Washington, to see if any more extensions are coming. 

“Predicting the behavior of elected officials in Washington, or elsewhere, is precarious,” Hamrick said. “Americans should prepare as if they might not get further benefits but keep an eye out for further developments.”

Stephen Silver, a technology writer for the National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia InquirerPhilly VoicePhiladelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic AgencyLiving Life FearlessBackstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Image: Reuters

Can America Make Its 6th Generation Stealth Fighters Unstoppable?

The National Interest - Wed, 01/09/2021 - 02:33

Michael Peck

Stealth Fighters, Americas

It depends on more than technology.

Here's What You Need to Know: American planes will operate from more distant bases in the future.

The scenario goes like this: In 2030, Russia invades the Baltic States. As the U.S. sends forces to Europe, China seizes the opportunity to seize disputed islands in the South China Sea. American airpower flies to the rescue, only to discover that sophisticated Russian and Chinese fighters and anti-aircraft defenses have rendered the skies too deadly for older American planes to conduct missions.

If this scenario were to come to pass, current U.S. air power would be unable to cope. Too many aircraft are old, have too small a range and payload, and can’t operate in tough air defense environments. One solution? Develop a sixth-generation stealth aircraft that essentially combines the air combat capability of an F-22 fighter with the electronic attack capability of an EA-18G Growler jamming aircraft.

This was the conclusion from a series of wargames conducted by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment last year. Less a prediction of the future and more a planning construct to determine what the U.S. Air Force will need twenty years from now, the Congressionally-mandated report and its underlying wargames looked at what kind of capabilities are needed for a two-front war in Europe and the Pacific.

To make U.S. airpower effective, the wargame players wanted what CSBA called a Penetrating Counter-Air/Penetrating Electronic Attack (PCA/PC-E) aircraft. “The Air Force should develop and procure a PCA/P-EA to conduct counterair, electronic attack, and other missions to defeat Russian and Chinese airborne and surface access denial systems,” the report said. “A PCA/P-EA aircraft should also have enough range, possibly 1,500 nautical miles or more, to allow integration of its operations with other long-range penetrators.”

The PCA would be both bodyguard and sheepdog, protecting older aircraft from enemy fighters and anti-aircraft defenses as they penetrate heavily defended airspace. However, Gunzinger emphasized that the PCA was not a panacea, but rather one component of a solution. “This includes weapons, unmanned systems, expendable decoys, it’s a family of capabilities,” he said.

The PCA would also have an unmanned counterpart in the form of the MQ-X, a hypothetical unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) that could penetrate dangerous skies to conduct counterair, electronic attack and strike. Indeed, Gunzinger noted that the study made no recommendation as to whether the PCA itself should be manned or unmanned. The study also called for penetrating surveillance drones, or P-ISR as well as more survivable air tankers.

CSBA sees the keys to successful future airpower as being penetration and survivability. If an aircraft can’t penetrate a barrier of enemy interceptors and surface-to-air missiles, then it cannot accomplish its mission. “To have the degree of freedom to operate in the battlespace is going to be so important,” Gunzinger emphasized.

But penetration and survivability are more than matters of fighters and flak. A U.S. aircraft that doesn’t have an airbase within range of the target, or even an airbase to operate from, is useless. The wargame participants wanted “longer range, larger payload systems. Because bases located close to or in future threat environments, such as Eastern Europe or the Western Pacific, they will probably be under attack or at very high risk of attack,” Gunzinger said.

“Attrition on the ground might be much higher than in the air,” he added.

That means American planes will be operating from more distant bases, and the greater distances mean fewer sorties. Which places a premium on long-range aircraft that can carry a heavy payload per sortie.

“They can’t just nibble around the edges and launch weapons over long ranges,” said Gunzinger. “But actually penetrate to deliver a variety of weapons that they can carry in large numbers.”

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

This article first appeared in April 2019.

Image: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Siuta B. Ika

Too Little, Too Late: Why the Nakajima Kikka Kamikaze Jet Couldn't Save Japan

The National Interest - Wed, 01/09/2021 - 02:00

Michael Peck

World War II, Asia

No jet fighter late in the game could undo massive earlier mistakes.

Here's What You Need to Know: The Kikka would have been overwhelmed by the massive U.S. land-based and carrier-based formations that roamed over Japan in the last days of the war.

It is a fallacy that Germany was the only nation to develop combat jets in World War II. In truth, while Germany had the most advanced technology, all of the major powers had jet aircraft projects during World War II, including the United States, Britain, Russia, Italy and Japan.

The most well-known Japanese jet—and the only one that saw combat—was the Okha, a rocket-propelled and human-piloted kamikaze. But another Japanese jet actually flew before the war ended, and would have seen combat had it continued: the Nakajima Kikka.

Japanese scientists had actually studied jet engines as far back as the 1930s, despite little government support, and even a turbojet prototype by 1943. Tokyo also knew of German research due to Japanese observers who witnessed early tests of the legendary German Me-262 jet fighter in 1942, But it wasn't until the summer of 1944, when U.S. B-29 bombers began to pound Japan, that the Japanese Navy asked for the Kokoku Heiki No. 2, or Kikka ("orange blossom").

That the Kikka resembled an Me-262 is no coincidence—nor was it a matter of simple imitation. Japan's jet program was heavily derived from German research, but the aid was hardly straightforward. In July 1944, Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering ordered that Japan be provided with blueprints for the Me-262, the Junkers Jumo 004 and BMW 003 turbojet engines, and even an actual Me-262 aircraft.

Yet the Japanese submarine carrying the plans from Germany to Japan was sunk by U.S. forces, though not before a Japanese envoy got off at Singapore with just a single cutaway drawing of the BMW 003 (arguably just as important as the blueprints for the Me-262, given that early jets were only as good as their unreliable engines). That was enough for Japanese engineers to build the Ne-20 turbojet, an engine that was superior to the homegrown Ne-12 that was originally supposed to power the Kikka.

There were two striking aspects to the Kikka. The most obvious is that it looks like a smaller version of the Me-262, though the similarities were mostly skin-deep. Unlike the German jet, the Kikka had straight instead of swept-back wings, which hampered its performance. The other striking aspect was that it was originally designed as a kamikaze. "In keeping with the shimpu [kamikaze] mission of the aircraft, the initial design had no landing gear and was to be launched from catapult ramps, boosted with RATO [rocket-assisted take off] units," writes aviation historian Edwin Dyer. "The calculated range was a mere 204km (127 miles) due to the designated engine, the Ne 12, which burned fuel at a rapid rate. At sea level the estimated speed was 639km/h (397mph). A single bomb fixed to the aircraft was the only armament. Another feature was the inclusion of folding wings to allow the aircraft to be hidden in caves and tunnels and protected from bombing attacks."

By March 1945, the Kikka's mission changed to a tactical bomber, and an interceptor armed with 30mm cannon. Its engine changed from the Ne-12 turbojet to the Ne-20 (though shortages of key metals reduced the Ne-20's efficiency). But design was one thing: building jets in 1945 while Japanese aircraft and engine factories were being pounded by U.S. bombers was another. Nonetheless, on August 7, 1945—the day after Hiroshima became the first atomic victim—test pilot Lt. Cdr. Susumu Takaoka made the first (nonkamikaze) flight of a Japanese jet. However, a second flight on August 11, two days after Nagasaki, resulted in a crash landing that damaged the Kikka prototype beyond repair.

Not that it mattered. While plans called for producing almost 500 Kikkas by the end of 1945, those plans were dashed by Japan's surrender on August 15. Just one aircraft had been completed by war's end.

How did the Kikka compare to the Me-262s that worried the Allied air forces in 1944–45? The Me-262A1A had a top speed of 540 miles per hour, which left in the dust American pilots flying P-51D Mustangs (maximum speed 437 miles per hour). Plans for the interceptor version of the Kikka called for a maximum speed of 443 miles per hour. In other words, its maximum speed was about the same as a Mustang, and the early jets of World War II were neither known for maneuverability or engine reliability.

The most intriguing question, of course, is whether Japanese jets could have changed the outcome of the Pacific War had they been fielded in time. The best answer is to look at what happened to Germany, which actually produced 1,400 Me-262s, some of which saw combat between November 1944 and May 1945. Though quite disturbing to the Allies, the jets didn't save the Third Reich. There were too many Allied aircraft, the Anglo-American air forces mounted standing patrols over airfields to catch the Me-262 during their vulnerable take-off and landing runs, and Nazi Germany was being overrun Allied tanks.

With an even worse fuel and raw-materials situation than Germany, Japan probably would have fared no better. The Kikka would have been overwhelmed by the massive U.S. land-based and carrier-based formations that roamed over Japan in the last days of the war. If it had been fielded earlier, perhaps it could have made some difference over battlefields such as the 1944 U.S. invasion of the Philippines. Yet even there, the Kikka's short range would have rendered it unsuitable for the long-distance flying that characterized the Pacific War. The Kikka might have been relegated to a defensive role over the home islands, intercepting daytime B-29 raids—except the Americans eventually switched the B-29s from day raids to night, when the radar-less Kikka could not fly.

Like its big brother the Me-262, the Kikka was too little, too late.

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

This article first appeared in 2018.

Image: San Diego Air & Space Museum / Wikimedia Commons

Will the Baltics be Able to Hold Their Own if Russia Invades?

The National Interest - Wed, 01/09/2021 - 01:33

Michael Peck

Baltic Security, Europe

The three nations only have a combined population of 6.2 million people, with about twenty-two thousand troops and 450 artillery pieces, but no tanks or jets.

Here's What You Need to Remember: Russia can muster 845,000 troops—three hundred thousand in western Russia alone—backed by 2,600 tanks, 5,500 artillery pieces and almost 1,400 warplanes. Despite popular resistance, an authoritarian nation like Russia might simply choose to absorb the costs of occupying all or parts of the Baltic states.

The Baltic states have a plan to defend themselves against Russian invasion: mobilize their societies for the struggle.

Should Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania go to war, their civilian populations will play a large part in the struggle, according to two RAND Corporation researchers. However, it’s not by choice.

“As small countries with little strategic depth and limited human and economic resources, they are increasingly adopting a ‘total defense’ approach to national security, which includes enabling civilians to be able to protect themselves and to also support their nation’s professional armed forces in case of a conflict,” write Marta Kepe and Jan Osburg in Small Wars Journal.

The three nations only have a combined population of 6.2 million people, with about twenty-two thousand troops and 450 artillery pieces, but no tanks or jets. Russia can muster 845,000 troops—three hundred thousand in western Russia alone—backed by 2,600 tanks, 5,500 artillery pieces and almost 1,400 warplanes. Planning for a conventional conflict with Russia would be pointless.

The solution, such as it is, in the face of such daunting odds is the traditional response of weaker states: make the invader’s life as miserable as possible until he tires of the conflict.

“The primary goal of asymmetric defense is to defeat the adversary’s will to engage in—or continue with—aggression by denying benefits, increasing costs and influencing their perception of both costs and benefits,” the researchers write. “Resistance to invasion and occupation would also send an important political message to Allied governments, namely that the local population does not accept the new rulers and is putting their lives on the line to defend their national sovereignty.”

Lithuania’s defense strategy, for example, has been inspired since by the 1990s by the nation-in-arms approaches of Switzerland and the Nordic states. “Here, total defense is understood as an approach to national defense that includes not just the National Armed Forces and Allied forces, but also the mobilization of all national resources towards defeating an invader, along with active resistance by every citizen that is in any way legitimate under international law.”

“Lithuanian strategic documents specifically allude to the concept of civil resistance, which is understood as the citizens of Lithuania, either as individuals or formed into small units, engaging in activities against aggression and occupation.”

Estonia has maintained conscription since the 1990s, and Lithuania reinstituted the draft in 2016, though Latvia still has a volunteer military. But Latvia is considering whether to teach military and civil-defense skills to all high-school students (ironically, so did the Soviet Union).

It’s not clear how effective such a defense strategy will be. The Baltic nations can mobilize populations with strong resentments of Russia, but they also have large Russian minorities that might not fight so enthusiastically against Moscow (or may become proxies used by Moscow, like the Ukrainian separatists). Given the history of the viciously anti-Semitic militias that supported Nazi Germany during World War II (there are still parades in Lithuania to honor them), Russia would no doubt portray the resistance as fascist.

Despite popular resistance, an authoritarian nation like Russia might simply choose to absorb the costs of occupying all or parts of the Baltic states. Russia’s hybrid-warfare strategy, using a low-cost mixture of local irregulars backed by special forces and some regular troops, would be a relatively low cost way of seizing Baltic territory.

In the end, no clever strategy can change the fact that Russia is big and the Baltic states are small. Nonetheless, as in any situation where there is bullying, simply declaring your readiness to stand up to a bigger aggressor just might deter attack—or at least not leave you feeling so helpless.

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook. This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters. 

Five Pieces of Future U.S. Military Technology

The National Interest - Wed, 01/09/2021 - 01:00

Michael Peck

Technology, Americas

Five pieces of U.S. military tech that we may see in the near future

Here's What You Need to Remember: As the nature of war changes, so will the technology the U.S. uses to fight it. 

The U.S. Army already fields an impressive array of weapons. But as the U.S. Army prepares itself for potential conflicts against high-tech Russian and Chinese armies, the Army is working on a slew of new systems ranging from tanks to missiles.

The result will be the gradual disappearance of the familiar weapons born during the Cold War -- the Abrams tanks and Apache helicopters -- that symbolize America's arsenal. In their place will be a new generation of weapons.

Here are five that we will likely see in the coming years:

1. Next-Generation Combat Vehicle:

Since the 1980s, the backbone of the Army's armor force has been the M-1 Abrams tank and M-2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle. Both designs have been upgraded and modernized over the years -- the latest M1A2 has far better sensors and electronics than a 1980s M1 -- but these are essentially 40-year-old designs meant to stop a Soviet tank assault across the Fulda Gap. The counterinsurgency "small wars" of the past two decades has made armor secondary to infantry boots on the ground, but as the U.S. refocuses on the prospect of mechanized "big war" against Russia and China, there is new love for tanks.

The Army's Next-Generation Combat Vehicle program aims to create a 21st Century armor fleet, including a new main battle tank, infantry fighting vehicle, self-propelled gun and even robot tanks. The defense industry is pitching several designs, such as BAE's Swedish-designed CV90 infantry carrier. But whatever vehicles are chosen will reflect the enormous changes in technology over the past four decades: active protection systems to stop anti-tank missiles, tactical networks, and even drones as an integral part of the vehicle's systems. And for a really futuristic design, take a look at DARPA's Ground X-Vehicle Technologies program, and the conceptual art of a tank that looks like a dune buggy.

2. Maneuver-Short-Range Air Defense (MSHORAD):

Snuggled under the protection of the U.S. Air Force, and facing low-tech opponents like the Taliban, the Army's tactical air defenses have lapsed since the Cold War. But with the proliferation of drones, and the threat of high-tech Russian and Chinese aircraft and helicopters, the skies aren't looking so friendly for the ground-pounders. For now, the Army is opting for a stopgap solution that mounts Stinger anti-aircraft missiles on a Stryker light armored vehicle. But the Army plans to mount directed energy weapons -- lasers -- on the Stryker, which can engage targets more quickly than missiles, and don't run out of ammunition (except for electricity).

3. Robot tanks: 

These were once the stuff of science fiction. But the fact that the U.S. Army has a program called Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle attests to the rise of the machine. The Army already has a robot test vehicle: an armed, remote-controlled M113 armored personnel carrier, and is vigorously pursuing autonomous trucks that can haul supplies without a driver.

4.  Future Vertical Lift:

Just as Cold War-era M1 tanks are being replaced, so are the Apache and Blackhawk helicopters that comprised Army aviation. The Future Vertical Lift program aims to develop a family of new helicopters, including an attack/reconnaissance machine.

5. Long-range artillery and hypersonic missiles: 

Accustomed to plentiful air support from the Air Force, the Army's artillery has lagged behind that of Russia, which is fielding several new howitzers. But instead of big guns that can shoot out to 20 miles like the M109A6 Paladin155-millimeter self-propelled howitzer, the Army is talking of cannon that can hurl a shell a thousand miles. Whatever the exact range will be, it's likely the Army will be deploying artillery that can reach hundreds of miles, which vastly extends the lethal zone in which enemy troops must operate.

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook. This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters. 

How the U.S. Army Is Improving its Stealth Warfighting

The National Interest - Wed, 01/09/2021 - 00:33

Michael Peck

Stealth, Americas

With radar making it much harder for soldiers to hide on the ground, the Army is trying to improve its stealth technology for the average grunt. 

Here's What You Need to Remember: Stealth materials already exist, but have been unavailable to the lowly foot soldier. That's changing. 

First there were stealth fighters that didn’t show up on radar. Now the U.S. Army wants uniforms that allow ground troops to escape the notice of electromagnetic eyes.

Radar has become an integral part of ground warfare, which makes it that much harder for soldiers to hide on the battlefield. Thus, the Army wants uniforms woven out of a material that will absorb rather than reflect radar waves.

"Radar absorbing and shielding technology has attracted a growing interest due to the recent advances in enemy electronic warfare and detection capabilities, leaving U.S. forces, especially infantry forces, vulnerable to detection across the electromagnetic spectrum," according to a new Army research solicitation. "Advanced battlefield and ground surveillance radar (BSR/GSR) are readily available in military markets that are highly effective, portable, and automated for large area monitoring."

Stealth materials already exist, but have been unavailable to the lowly foot soldier. "While there exists a wide variety of radar absorbing material (RAM) composites for shelters and vehicles, there are currently no effective and lightweight wearable options to mitigate GSR detection of a dismounted soldier," the Army notes.

In particular, the Army wants fabric that will absorb radar waves in the Ku- and X-frequency bands. "Prototypes must demonstrate lab- and field-based capabilities within the X and Ku frequency bands at distances up to 12 kilometers [7.5 miles]," says the Army. Whatever material is devised, the grunts wearing it will be reassured to know that the fabric must be flexible, durable and breathable. It must accommodate temperatures from -30 degrees to 125 degrees Fahrenheit, and withstand wet and humid climates.

The Army’s radar-proof uniform project comes at a time when scientists have developed "invisibility" cloaks, using material that doesn't interact with radar waves.

Meanwhile, Russia says it has already developed radar-invisible uniforms. Better yet, according to Moscow, Russia is working on uniforms that won't only make soldiers invisible, but also germ-free.

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and FacebookThis piece was originally featured in May 2018 and is being republished due to reader interest. 

Image: Flickr.

12,000 U.S. Troops Once Surrendered to the Japanese Military

The National Interest - Wed, 01/09/2021 - 00:00

Michael Peck

U.S. Military History, Asia

In a forgotten moment of history, over ten thousand U.S. soldiers publicly surrendered to Japanese forces in the Philippines.

Here's What You Need to Remember: Under the cameras of Japanese photographers and the contemptuous glare of Japanese officers, Gen. Jonathan Wainwright surrendered the last of the U.S. garrison in the Philippines.

“Tell Joe, wherever he is, to give ’em hell for us,” said the radio signal. “My love to you all. God bless you and keep you. Sign my name, and tell mother how you heard from me. Stand by.”

And then there was silence.

On the morning of May 6, 1942, U.S. Army Sgt. Irving Strobing sent the last message—to America, his family and his brother Joe—from the fortress of Corregidor, an island at the mouth of Manila Bay. A few hours later, under the cameras of Japanese photographers and the contemptuous glare of Japanese officers, Gen. Jonathan Wainwright surrendered the last of the U.S. garrison in the Philippines.

From Corregidor’s tunnels emerged eleven thousand starving, wounded and exhausted American and Filipino prisoners, including several American nurses. They swelled the ranks of the defenders of the Bataan peninsula, who had surrendered on April 9. By early May 1942, the Japanese had captured seventy-six thousand American and Filipino soldiers in the largest surrender in U.S. history.

On the seventy-fifth anniversary of the fall of Corregidor, the question still remains: what went wrong?

The answer is pretty much everything. The problems began with an impossible strategic situation. Manila is only two thousand miles from Japan, but five thousand miles from Pearl Harbor. By the 1930s, it was obvious that in the case of war, the Philippines would be isolated by the Japanese Navy, bereft of reinforcements and resupply. War Plan Orange called for the U.S. Navy to conduct a naval cavalry charge across the Pacific to relieve the garrison. At best, this would be chancy; at worst, Japanese aircraft and subs would whittle down the U.S. fleet; and in reality, the Pearl Harbor disaster left no fleet to come to the rescue.

None of which was Philippines commander Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s fault, but much else was. Under his watch, essential defense preparations were left undone (exacerbated by tight prewar budgets). By December 7, 1941, U.S. Army and mobilized Filipino troop strength had soared from thirty-one thousand to 130,000 troops. But the Filipinos in particular were poorly trained and armed, and the defenders were scattered across the islands of the Philippines. The Far East Air Force had perhaps three hundred aircraft, but that included only thirty-five B-17s and another hundred modern P-40 fighters, with the rest obsolete models. The Asiatic Fleet based in Manila had only a handful of ships, some submarines, plus the Fourth Marine Regiment.

News of Pearl Harbor awakened MacArthur at 3 a.m. December 8. The aircraft at Clark Field should have been dispersed and then launched to bomb Japanese airfields on Taiwan. With bad weather delaying the Japanese strike for nine hours, the Americans might have caught Japanese planes on the ground—if MacArthur had authorized it. Instead the Japanese caught the American air fleet on the ground and decimated it, thus depriving the defenders of their only chance to disrupt the impending amphibious landing.

Later on December, Japanese troops landed on northern Luzon, unmolested for a handful of U.S. aircraft (which still managed to sink or damage several ships). But this was only a sucker punch before the main landing: on December 22, the Japanese Fourteenth Army landed in Lingayen Gulf, in the center of Luzon and close to Manila and Clark Field. This was followed by a smaller landing in southern Luzon.

Outflanked and outmaneuvered, MacArthur ordered Plan Orange, a delaying action by rearguards while the bulk of his forces moved into the defenses of the Bataan Peninsula near Manila. Covered by detachments of U.S. and Filipino troops, including some M3 Stuart light tanks, eighty thousand troops and twenty thousand civilians made it into Bataan. Unfortunately, Plan Orange called for sufficient supplies for only forty-three thousand troops to dig in at Bataan.

Nonetheless, the Bataan troops fought bravely and inflicted heavy losses. But unless the U.S. Navy could instantly resurrect the sunken battleships at Pearl Harbor, the Philippines were doomed. Backed by heavy air support, the Japanese eventually broke through the lines of starving and ill defenders. Most eventually surrendered, but a few made it to Corregidor, defended by a motley assortment of Army, Marine and Filipino troops. Lacking food and medicine, they too were bombed and shelled until they surrendered May 6.

And MacArthur? The Bataan troops composed a song about him to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”:

Dugout Doug MacArthur lies ashaking on the Rock

Safe from all the bombers and from any sudden shock

Dugout Doug is eating of the best food on Bataan

And his troops go starving on.

Dugout Doug’s not timid, he’s just cautious, not afraid

He’s protecting carefully the stars that Franklin made

Four-star generals are rare as good food on Bataan

And his troops go starving on.

Dugout Doug is ready in his Kris Craft for the flee

Over bounding billows and the wildly raging sea

For the Japs are pounding on the gates of Old Bataan

And his troops go starving on . . .

But MacArthur was busy with other things. He was awarded $500,000 by Philippine president Manuel Quezon for his prewar service, and his staff also got money (Eisenhower was offered money, but turned it down). To be fair, he was ordered by President Roosevelt to fly himself and his family aboard a B-17 to Australia. Following orders, to be sure, but his troops weren’t so lucky. Between the cruelty of the Bataan Death March, and for the survivors the brutality of Japanese prison camps, 40 percent of the Americans never made it home.

“I will return,” MacArthur vowed. And he did—on October 20, 1944, and in the presence of photographers.

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook. This article first appeared in 2017 and was republished due to reader demand.

Image: Wikipedia

Britain’s Royal Air Force Nearly Built Its Own ‘SR-71’ Spy Plane

The National Interest - Tue, 31/08/2021 - 23:33

Michael Peck

Royal Air Force, Europe

London had plans for a high-altitude, supersonic reconnaissance aircraft that could have flown as early as 1965.

Here's What You Need to Know: The Avro 730 had much in common with the American Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.

Had history turned out differently, the first Mach 3 spy plane of the Cold War might have been British rather than American.

The U.S. Air Force first deployed the legendary SR-71 Blackbird in January 1966. Yet Britain had plans for a high-altitude, supersonic reconnaissance aircraft that could have flown as early as 1965.

The Avro 730 was born during the early 1950s, in the golden twilight of manned strategic bombers before ICBMs made their fiery debut. To support its force of nuclear-armed V- bombers—the Valiant, Victor and Vulcan—the Royal Air Force called for a high-altitude, long-range reconnaissance jet that could fly at a speed of at least Mach 2.5 (1,918 miles per hour).

Just how ambitious these goals were can be seen by the fact that Britain would not field its first supersonic fighter, the Mach 2–capable Lightning, until 1959. And to make development of the spy plane even more complicated, the RAF eventually added a requirement that the aircraft become a reconnaissance bomber capable of dropping nuclear weapons.

In 1955, the RAF awarded a development contract to Avro, the aircraft manufacturer behind the Vulcan as well as the legendary Lancaster bomber of World War II. The four-turbojet Avro 730 actually looked somewhat like the SR-71, with a long, slender fuselage, except that the 730 had canards—mini-wings—near the nose.

Maximum altitude would have been sixty-six thousand feet, and maximum range 4,280 nautical miles at a top speed of Mach 2.5, according to author Tony Butler in his book British Secret Projects: Jet Bombers Since 1949. The fully fueled aircraft would have weighed 146 tons, with half the aircraft’s weight taken up by fuel. The two-man crew would have sat in a cockpit that only had two small side-facing windows. For visibility during takeoff and landing, the pilot would have relied on a retractable periscope.

While the Blackbird was mostly constructed out of lightweight, heat-resistant and expensive titanium, the 730 used old-fashioned materials. “Avro based the 730’s structure on high tensile steel since this permitted the specified Mach 2.5, arguing that its known and reliable properties offset the shorter development time of light alloy; it also offered possible development to even higher Mach numbers,” Butler writes. Nonetheless, heating remained a serious concern. Just like the Blackbird, the 730 would have used its own fuel supply as a heat sink to cool the aircraft.

As a reconnaissance aircraft, the 730 would have carried the Red Drover sideways-looking X-band radar to scan the terrain below. As a bomber, it would have carried British atomic weapons with bizarre code names like Green Bamboo or Orange Herald.

The plan was for the RAF to begin flying the 730 in 1965, perhaps a year before the SR-71 became operational. Alas, no 730s would ever leave the drawing board. In 1957 came the momentous British White Paper on Defense, which concluded that surface-to-air missiles had rendered high-altitude bombers obsolete (as would be proved by the downing of an American U-2 by a Soviet missile in 1960). British defense officials saw the future as belonging to nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, which resulted in the cancellation of numerous British aircraft projects, including the 730.

There will always be two questions associated with the Avro 730. First, how would it have compared with the SR-71? Since the 730 never flew, we can never be sure. But in terms of official specifications, the SR-71 would seem to have been a superior aircraft. The Blackbird could fly at eighty thousand feet and achieve a speed of Mach 3.3 (2,532 miles per hour). That’s not surprising: while Britain had been on the forefront of aviation technology before World War II, by the 1960s, America’s much vaster defense budgets and resources enabled development of high-tech aircraft that other nations could only dream of.

The other question, of course, is whether the Avro 730 would have been a worthwhile aircraft for Britain. Butler puts it best: “Had the winning Avro 730 been completed and flown it would have been a major achievement but, once again, significant advances in the development of defensive Soviet surface-to-air guided weapons quite literally brought everything down to earth and made the 730, at least in British eyes, an out­dated and obsolete concept. The Avro 730 had much in common with the American Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird and predated it by a year or two. Early American studies looked similar to some of the designs described in this chapter but America saw its program through to fruition and the SR-71 served for many years. Whether Britain should have completed its machine, and would it have been worth the cost, is an argument that most likely will never be settled.”

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

This article first appeared in January 2017.

Image: NASA / Wikimedia Commons

U.S. Troop Pullout Sparks New Urgency for Afghan Evacuations

Foreign Policy - Tue, 31/08/2021 - 23:21
There’s little expectation the Taliban will make it easy to leave.

Yamamoto's Assassination was a Key Moment in World War II

The National Interest - Tue, 31/08/2021 - 23:00

Michael Peck

World War II, South Pacific

American fighter planes took down Isoroku Yamamoto thanks to good intelligence, precise timing, and a little luck.

Here's What You Need To Remember: Yamamoto’s assassination is still significant because it has been cited as a precedent for today’s drone strikes. To be clear, there is no doubt that assassinating Yamamoto was legal according to the laws of war. He was an enemy soldier in uniform, flying in an enemy military aircraft that was attacked by uniformed U.S. military personnel in marked military aircraft.

Some sixty-eight years before U.S. special forces killed Osama bin Laden, America conducted an assassination of another kind.

This time, the target wasn’t a terrorist. It was the Japanese admiral who planned the Pearl Harbor operation. But the motive was the same: payback for a sneak attack on the United States.

In early 1943, Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, commander in chief of the Japanese Navy, was one of the most hated men in America. He was seen as the Asian Devil in naval dress, the fiend who treacherously struck peaceful, sleeping America. And when the United States saw a chance for payback in April 1943, there was no hesitation. Hence a code name unmistakable in its intent: Operation Vengeance.

As with today’s drone strikes, the operation began with an intercepted message. Except it wasn’t a call from a cell phone, but rather a routine military radio signal. In the spring of 1943, Japan was in trouble: the Americans had captured Guadalcanal despite a terrible sacrifice of Japanese ships and aircraft. Stung by criticism that senior commanders were not visiting the front to ascertain the situation, Yamamoto resolved to visit naval air units on the South Pacific island of Bougainville.

As was customary, a coded signal was sent on April 13, 1943, to the various Japanese commands in the area, listing the admiral’s itinerary as well as the number of transport planes and fighter escorts in his party. But American codebreakers had been reading Japanese diplomatic and military messages for years, including those in the JN-25 code, used in various forms by the Imperial Navy throughout World War II. The Yamamoto signal was sent in the new JN-25D variant, but that didn’t stop American cryptanalysts from deciphering it in less than a day.

Adm. Chester Nimitz, the U.S. commander in the Pacific, authorized an operation to shoot down Yamamoto’s plane. With typical spleen, Pacific Fleet commander William “Bull” Halsey issued his own unambiguous message: “TALLY HO X LET’S GET THE BASTARD.”

Yet getting Yamamoto was easier said than done. Navy and Marine fighters like the F4F Wildcat and F4U Corsair didn’t have the range to intercept Yamamoto’s aircraft over Bougainville, four hundred miles from the nearest American air base on Guadalcanal. The only fighter with long enough legs was the U.S. Army Air Forces’ twin-engined Lockheed P-38G Lightning.

But even the P-38s faced a difficult task. To avoid detection, American planners wanted them to fly “at least 50 miles offshore of these islands, which meant dead-reckoning over 400 miles over water at fifty feet or less, a prodigious feat of navigation,” according to a history of the Thirteenth Fighter Command, the parent organization of the 339th Fighter Squadron that flew the mission.

Even worse, the Lightnings had no AWACS radar aircraft or land-based radar to guide them to the target, or even to tell them where Yamamoto’s plane was. Nor could the U.S. aircraft loiter over Bougainville in the midst of numerous Japanese fighter bases. They would essentially have to intercept Yamamoto where and when he was scheduled to be.

However, by calculating the speed of the Japanese G4M Betty bomber that would carry Yamamoto, probable wind speed, the enemy’s probable flight path, and assuming that Yamamoto would be as punctual as he was reputed to be, American planners estimated the intercept would occur at 9:35 a.m.

The Americans assigned eighteen P-38s for the mission, of which a flight of four would pounce on Yamamoto’s plane, while the remainder would climb above as top cover against Japanese fighters. Two Lightnings aborted on the way to Bougainville, leaving just sixteen to perform the mission.

That the Americans arrived just a minute early, at 9:34, was remarkable. Even more remarkable was that the Japanese appeared on time a minute later. Flying at 4,500 feet were two Betty bombers, one carrying Yamamoto and the other his chief of staff, Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki. They were escorted by six A6M Zero fighters keeping watch 1,500 feet above them.

Still undetected, twelve Lightnings climbed to eighteen thousand feet. The remaining four attacked the Bettys, with the first pair, flown by Capt. Thomas Lanphier Jr. and Lt. Rex Barber, closing in for the kill. As the two bombers dived to evade the interceptors, the American pilots couldn’t even be sure which one carried Yamamoto.

Lanphier engaged the escorts while Barber pursued the two bombers. Barber’s cannon shells and bullets slammed into the first Betty, an aircraft model notorious for being fragile and flammable. With its left engine damaged, it slammed into the jungle. Then the second Betty, attacked by three of the P-38s, crashed into the water. The Americans had lucked out again: the Betty that crashed into the jungle, killing its crew and passengers, had carried Yamamoto. From the Betty that hit the water, Admiral Ugaki survived (hours after Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945, Ugaki took off in a kamikaze and was never heard from again).

A Japanese search party hacked through the jungle until they found Yamamoto’s plane. “Afterward the Admiral’s body and the others were cremated and the ashes put into boxes,” recounts the Thirteenth Fighter Command history. “His cremation pit was filled, and two papaya trees, his favorite fruit, were planted on the mound. A shrine was erected, and Japanese naval personnel cared for the graves until the end of the war.”

Yamamoto’s remains were returned to Japan aboard the super battleship Musashi in May 1943 for a state funeral that drew a million mourners. For the Americans, euphoria and satisfaction were dogged by postwar controversy that lasted for sixty years over who actually shot down Yamamoto’s plane: Barber and Lanphier were credited with a half kill apiece, though many critics said Barber should have received full credit.

The irony was that Yamamoto was not the worst of America’s enemies. He was no pacifist, but nor was he as militaristic as the hard-core Japanese hard-liners. Yamamoto opposed the 1940 alliance with Nazi Germany, which he feared would drag Japan into a ruinous war. While he didn’t oppose war as a means of saving Japan from a crippling U.S. oil embargo in 1941 (his depiction as a peacemonger in the movie Tora! Tora! Tora! is wrong), he did warn Japanese leaders that “in the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain, I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.”

Did Yamamoto’s death affect the war? His Pearl Harbor operation was audacious and brilliant, but his poor strategy at Midway six months later destroyed Japan’s elite aircraft carrier force (ironically, it was also U.S. codebreaking that set the stage for the Midway disaster). By 1943, he was a sick and exhausted man. Perhaps he might have come up with a better late-war naval strategy than the disastrous battles of the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf. Yet not even the architect of Pearl Harbor could save Japan from defeat.

Yamamoto’s assassination is still significant because it has been cited as a precedent for today’s drone strikes. To be clear, there is no doubt that assassinating Yamamoto was legal according to the laws of war. He was an enemy soldier in uniform, flying in an enemy military aircraft that was attacked by uniformed U.S. military personnel in marked military aircraft. This is nothing new. In 1942, British commandos unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Rommel, and modern militaries devote great efforts to locating enemy headquarters to kill commanders and staffs.

But what’s really interesting is that compared with the controversy over today’s targeted assassinations, there was remarkably little fuss made over the decision to kill Yamamoto. The U.S. military treated it as a purely military matter that didn’t need civilian approval. Admiral Nimitz authorized the interception, and the orders were passed down the military chain of command. There was no presidential decision nor Justice Department review. It’s hard to imagine that the killing of a top Al Qaeda leader, let alone a top Russian, Chinese or North Korean commander, would be treated so routinely.

Yamamoto’s death was significant on the symbolic level. But in military terms, he was just another casualty of war.

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

This first appeared several years ago.

Image: Wikimedia

McMaster Still Gets Afghanistan Wrong

The National Interest - Tue, 31/08/2021 - 22:58

Will Smith

Afghanistan, South Asia

Without an adequate examination of the twenty-year nation building and counterinsurgency project that preceded the withdrawal—which McMaster himself was intimately involved in—he may be able to deflect blame, but he will never develop a full understanding of the many factors that led to the heartbreaking fall of Kabul.

With the failure of America’s two-decade-long nation building project in Afghanistan on full display, an array of former officials have stepped into the spotlight to offer their thoughts on why the Taliban has been able to consolidate control over Afghanistan so quickly. Speaking at a recent Wilson Center event, H.R. McMaster, the retired U.S. Army lieutenant general who served in Afghanistan and was National Security Advisor to former President Donald Trump, attempted to place blame for the Taliban’s gut-wrenching victory on the “defeatists” who advocated for an end to America’s longest war.

Two key claims ran through McMaster’s talk at the “Hindsight Up Front: Afghanistan” event hosted by the Wilson Center. First, the United States had been “winning” in Afghanistan until it made unnecessary concessions to the Taliban during negotiations. Second, maintaining a “sustainable commitment” in Afghanistan in the years to come, rather than withdrawing, would have allowed America to ultimately achieve success at a low cost.

In light of Craig Whitlock’s publication of the “Afghanistan Papers,” which documented how U.S. officials systematically lied to politicians and the public about the progress of the war, it is perhaps unsurprising that McMaster’s analysis of the Taliban’s success devoted little attention to the two decades that the United States spent attempting to build a competent Afghan government. Conveniently, the starting point for McMaster’s analysis is the U.S.-Taliban peace deal—cynically referred to by McMaster as the “capitulation agreement”—that was negotiated after he left the Trump administration.

According to McMaster, “we’d won” the war in Afghanistan but then “inflicted defeat on ourselves” by pursuing a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. During the Wilson Center event, McMaster argued that if the Biden administration had continued the military mission in Afghanistan instead of withdrawing, the United States would have been able to protect its core interests at an acceptable cost. “I think what is important is for us to develop strategies that are flexible but are sustainable over time, whether it’s 2,500 or 8,500 or 12,000 [troops]. You know, we’re the United States of America man, if we were Ecuador, that might be a stretch. But we can sustain that commitment.”

McMaster spent no time explaining exactly how the U.S. military had previously “won” in Afghanistan or addressing what the Taliban’s rapid advance suggests about the nature of the victory purportedly squandered by “defeatists” such as President Joe Biden. Contrary to McMaster’s assertion that the United States was winning prior to the Trump administration’s “capitulation,” the fact is that the Taliban had been consistently gaining strength, leaving the Afghan government in control of just over half of the country when U.S.-Taliban negotiations began. While assuring his audience that the American public does not understand “how low of a cost it was to sustain [the] commitment," McMaster ignored the fact that the cost of a continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, in both American lives and taxpayer dollars, would undoubtedly increase if Biden failed to withdraw all U.S. forces by the current August 31 deadline.

Outside of mocking the idea that there is no military solution to the conflict and repeatedly stressing the necessity of a long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, McMaster did not articulate how he would change U.S. strategy to reach key objectives—such as establishing a functioning Afghan state or eliminating conditions that foster support for the Taliban—that the twenty-year military mission failed to achieve. As McMaster asserted that a “sustainable commitment” in Afghanistan would have been capable of “prevent[ing] what is happening now,” but failed to convey what concrete objectives could be achieved by the continued deployment of U.S. forces, he gave the impression that his desired policy would be an open-ended policing mission aimed at maintaining the status quo in Afghanistan.

Toward the end of the discussion, McMaster identified a “terrorist ecosystem” that is supposedly waging “endless jihad” against the United States and is “connected from Southeast Asia, across South Asia, into the greater Middle East, into North Africa, into the G5 Sahel and the Horn of Africa.” In McMaster’s eyes, this network poses an omnipresent threat that necessitates “redoubl[ing] our efforts against jihadist terrorists” and can only be mitigated by an active U.S. military footprint throughout the world.

In his concluding remarks, McMaster expressed his frustration with the American public’s lack of support for “endless wars” and argued that U.S. officials must better inform the American people about the war in Afghanistan and other counterterrorism initiatives. In a peculiar aside intended to highlight how waning public support led the United States to talk itself “into defeat in Afghanistan,” McMaster claimed that Kim Il-sung decided to begin an insurgency against South Korea after seeing “American protests against the war in Vietnam” and sensing “American weakness.” 

“We had this defeatist narrative in Afghanistan, you know, ‘end the endless wars.’ Well first of all, it’s an endless jihad, waged against us, and we’d won,” McMaster said. “The whole narrative about it was wrong, so I think the first thing we have to do is inform the American people better … [about] what is at stake in the fight against jihadist terrorist organizations … and what is a strategy that will deliver a favorable outcome.”

Given the disturbing lengths that senior officials have gone to in order to hide the failure of the U.S. effort in Afghanistan from the public, one would hope that figures such as McMaster might have learned from the misdeeds documented in the “Afghanistan Papers” and will prioritize transparency in the future. Unfortunately, McMaster’s focus on informing the American people appears to stem from a cynical interest in ensuring higher levels of public support for the next open-ended conflict that the United States embarks on. Rather than attempting to educate the public on the purported necessity of continuing a continent-spanning war on terror, McMaster should reckon with why the American people “sadly … seem to be wanting to disengage from these endless wars.”

Without an adequate examination of the twenty-year nation building and counterinsurgency project that preceded the withdrawal—which McMaster himself was intimately involved in—he may be able to deflect blame, but he will never develop a full understanding of the many factors that led to the heartbreaking fall of Kabul. McMaster’s myopic analysis of the reasons for America’s failure in Afghanistan and his refusal to reflect on the roots of the Afghan state’s rapid collapse are emblematic of the inherent limitations in his approach to foreign policy. By reflexively turning to military force as a tool to achieve desired policy outcomes, McMaster fails to recognize the ways in which interventions—such as the U.S. interventions in Iraq, Libya, and Yemen—can ultimately undermine U.S. interests and benefit the very extremists that he views as an existential threat.

Will A. Smith is an editorial intern at The National Interest and a graduate student at American University's School of International Service

Image: Reuters

Both Sides Claim Victory as Taliban Renews Panjshir Offensive

The National Interest - Tue, 31/08/2021 - 22:53

Trevor Filseth


The Taliban have surrounded Panjshir and brought heavy equipment to the region, utilizing their advantage in numbers and equipment in their offensive.

Days after cutting off the region’s telephone and Internet access, the Taliban has launched another series of attacks on the last remaining area of the country outside their control, the Panjshir Valley in northeastern Afghanistan. The valley is occupied by the “National Resistance Front,” (NRF) led by Ahmad Massoud, son of legendary guerilla commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, and Amrullah Saleh, Afghanistan’s former Vice President under President Ashraf Ghani. Following Ghani’s departure for the United Arab Emirates in mid-August, Saleh proclaimed himself caretaker president of Afghanistan, although in practice the internationally recognized Afghan government has ceased to exist.

While negotiations remain ongoing between the Taliban and the Panjshir resistance, and both Massoud and Saleh have expressed willingness to compromise if a multi-party government could be formed. However, an agreement seems unlikely to be reached. The Taliban have surrounded Panjshir and brought heavy equipment to the region, utilizing their advantage in numbers and equipment in their offensive. The situation on the ground remains unclear, and each side has claimed victories over the other.

A TRT reporter stated that the Taliban had attacked the valley from Andarab, to the valley’s south, and Badakhshan, to its north. Taliban spokesmen have described the offensive as largely successful, claiming that its fighters had entered the valley.

The Panjshir resistance, however, has denied this. “There is no fight in Panjshir and no one has entered the province,” Panjshir spokesman Mohammad Almas Zahid told TOLO News, an Afghan news channel.

Ali Nazary, the NRF’s head of foreign relations, tweeted that a Taliban attack had been driven back with the destruction of many of the group’s armored vehicles. The same statement claimed that the Taliban had retreated from Gulbahar to Charikar, capital of Afghanistan’s Parwan province—an area that Massoud’s forces had briefly captured earlier in August, only to retreat after Taliban reinforcements arrived.

The Panjshir resistance reportedly has between 7,000 and 20,000 troops defending the valley, including heavy equipment and Afghan special forces formerly in the now-defunct Afghan National Army.

While some U.S. officials, including Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), have advocated for political and military support for the Panjshir resistance, the Biden administration has made no steps toward doing so. The conventional wisdom suggests that the U.S. will attempt to build up its relations with the Taliban, rather than undermine it by backing Massoud and Saleh.

Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.

Image: Reuters

American Credibility and Power in the World with Robert C. O’Brien

The National Interest - Tue, 31/08/2021 - 22:53

Christian Whiton

Foreign Policy, World

The collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan and the chaos in Kabul ahead of the August 31 evacuation deadline has called into question U.S. credibility to a degree unseen since the crises of the 1970s.

The collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan and the chaos in Kabul ahead of the August 31st evacuation deadline has called into question U.S. credibility to a degree unseen since the crises of the 1970s. Many analysts believe the consequences will affect American interests globally and raise questions about the management of foreign policy in Washington.

Enjoy the Center for the National Interest and Robert C. O’Brien's discussion on the state of U.S. power and credibility, lessons learned from running the National Security Council, and options for addressing emerging threats. Christian Whiton, senior fellow for strategy and trade at the Center, will moderate.

Robert C. O’Brien was the National Security Advisor from 2019 to 2021, coordinating policy on matters ranging from the Abraham Accords to reacting to the Covid-19 pandemic, and military action related to Iran and Afghanistan. He also facilitated successful diplomatic talks between Kosovo and Serbia and advocated a stronger posture against China. Previously, he was the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, arranging the release of several Americans detained abroad. O’Brien was a managing partner of the Arent-Fox law firm and a founding partner of Larson O’Brien LLP. He is currently the chairman of American Global Strategic LLC.

Image: Reuters.

Saudi and Iranian Officials Meet for Peace Talks in Baghdad

The National Interest - Tue, 31/08/2021 - 22:48

Trevor Filseth

Middle East, Middle East

The meeting is taking place in the shadow of the U.S. drawdown in the region under President Joe Biden, who has castigated America’s traditional regional allies, including Saudi Arabia, and indicated that American troops should return home.

On Friday, the first officials from Saudi Arabia and Iran began arriving in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, in advance of a summit between the two nations intended to promote a wider understanding across the region.

Iraq is a significant destination for a peace summit: following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that deposed Saddam Hussein, the country became a battleground for regional rivalries, with Iran-backed political parties and militias exerting significant influence over Iraq’s politics. The nation has charted a largely independent course under the leadership of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who volunteered Baghdad as a site for neutral mediation.

The talks are happening concurrently with negotiations to renew the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement in Vienna, which the U.S. withdrew from in 2018 and Iran has largely stopped complying with in response to additional sanctions. While the outline of the agreement is known—sanctions relief in exchange for a renewed commitment not to enrich weapons-grade uranium—talks have made slow progress as both sides have asked the other to make the first concession. Biden has stated that a future JCPOA should have diplomatic input from regional nations, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who would be directly threatened by Iranian nuclear weapons.

Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s newly elected president, was also invited to the meeting, but it is unclear if he will attend. The attendance of King Abdullah of Jordan and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt has been confirmed, as well that of as French president Emmanuel Macron, the only European leader who will be present.

Topics of discussion for the wide-ranging meeting will include the war in Yemen, the political and financial collapse of Lebanon, the civil war in Syria, and the region’s ongoing water crisis, which has had particularly acute effects in Iran. The main topic, however, will probably be the ongoing tensions between Riyadh and Tehran, as the two nations have engaged in steadily escalating proxy conflicts since 2016 when they severed relations. In 2019, a drone attack briefly shut down Saudi Aramco’s ability to pump oil—an attack that Saudi Arabia accused Iran of perpetrating. Iran has denied these accusations.

The meeting is taking place in the shadow of the U.S. drawdown in the region under President Joe Biden, who has castigated America’s traditional regional allies, including Saudi Arabia, and indicated that American troops should return home. The most prominent consequences of this policy so far have been the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the ensuing collapse of the Afghan government to the Taliban, with uncertain consequences across the Middle East.

Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.

Image: Reuters