THE BLOG

State of Play: Our Far-flung Crises

06/24/2015 02:07 pm ET | Updated Jun 25, 2015

"God of our fathers, known of old--
Lord of our far-flung battle line
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine ..."

from Rudyard Kipling's "Recessional," composed for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897

The velocity of events and the fragmentation of the media culture are such that it can be difficult to keep up with how we're doing in various national security crises around the world. Here's the latest state of play on some of the most pressing.

** CLIMATE CHANGE. Pope Francis has stepped up with a lengthy statement urging major action to rein in greenhouse gas emissions which are coming close to a tipping point for comfortable human habitation on this planet. Governor Jerry Brown had this to say: "In the face of the deep obsession with markets and material stuff, Pope Francis has called attention to our fundamental dependency on the natural environment. It's now up to leaders in business and government - and wherever else - to join together and reverse our accelerating slide into climate disorder and widespread suffering."

Brown, the '70s renewable energy/conservation pioneer, has dramatically accelerated the already nation-leading California programs on greenhouse gas reduction, renewable energy and conservation, and clean transportation ramped up by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger following initial major steps by then Governor Gray Davis.

Retired LA Congressman Henry Waxman, who authored unsuccessful federal legislation, has just written than President Barack Obama has more executive authority to act in advance of this December's UN Climate Summit in Paris.

The Taliban attack the national Parliament of Afghanistan in the supposedly secure capital city of Kabul as seen in this June 22nd video.

** AFGHANISTAN. America's longest war is winding down badly, the evanescent effect of Obama's big escalation evident with Monday's Taliban bombing of the Afghan National Parliament meeting in the supposedly secured capitol. Several people were killed, though not the new defense minister-designate, with dozens more wounded. The parliament was considering a new defense minister for a government that has been slow to get up and running after last year's latest festival of electoral fraud.

Under the American occupation, Afghanistan has been one of the most corrupt countries on the planet (along with Iraq) and the world leader in opium production with a new record reached just last year. The latter is a factor in our bad relations with nearby Russia, suffering through an epidemic of heroin addiction, with most of the supply coming from Afghanistan.

** ISIS. There's enthusiasm about the capture this week of the village Tal Abyad in the vicinity of an Isis stronghold. The feat was accomplished by a combination of Kurdish ground troops and American air power.

But it can't distract from the recent captures of the much larger Ramadi and Palmyra by Isis. Nor from the fact that the promised attempt to retake Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, has been postponed indefinitely. Only Iranian-backed Shiite militias and Kurdish troops have proved to be effective.

This is a failure both of Obama's earlier plan to hold off on attacking Isis while trying to fix the politics of Baghdad and of the vaunted Bush/Cheney surge, which totally failed to create a viable ongoing Iraqi military.

** IRANIAN NUCLEAR PROGRAM. Still no real deal on this controversial program. The Iranians, who have previously offered different interpretations of supposed agreements with the US and European powers, are now refusing to allow UN inspectors into their military facilities. Another fatal stumbling block is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's 2003 fatwa against nuclear weapons. To admit to evident past intent to go weaponization-capable would give the lie to the Supreme Leader's religious edict.

** RUSSIA/UKRAINE/NATO. New Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, the former head of Pentagon weapons acquisition, has just promised several European nations that we will stash a few hundred American tanks and armored vehicles in their countries to help prevent Russian military moves against them. (Not that we can realistically expect anything but saber rattling in that direction from Moscow.) But apparently no new US troops, despite earlier talk.

This ineffective military speed bump is an effective way to keep spinning up a new cold war with Russia and keep the pot boiling in the utterly avoidable Ukraine crisis, triggered last year when we ostentatiously backed regime change in a country a few hundred miles from Moscow at the height of Vladimir Putin's long cherished Sochi Winter Olympics. Putin, unsurprisingly furious, unsurprisingly annexed Crimea, which had previously been part of Russia, hosting key Russian naval installations, and backed pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine after the new pro-Western government in Kiev refused autonomy to the region.

Putin has been signaling hands off Ukraine to Obama -- who as I wrote at the time was thoroughly confused in his view of the Russian situation with his belief that Putin's longtime deputy Dmitry Medvedev was really in charge -- since 2009.

** DRONES AND SPECIAL FORCES. Following news reports in recent months of big mistakes and serious misuse of these assets, deployed in what looks like an ad hoc basis around the world, there's nothing new at present. That's because these programs are run in secret. The administration counts on the ADD character of the media culture to file and forget.

** LIBYA. The country remains totally out of control nearly four years after we provided the value-added forces needed to take down Moammar Gaddafi after the French and British-led air campaign against him stalled.

The latest House Republican investigation of the Benghazi disaster isn't any closer to why our people were attacked there on September 11, 2012. Instead, they've just deposed former columnist and longtime Clinton advisor Sidney Blumenthal, who sent some memos to the former secretary of state seeking once again to tie Hillary Clinton into the debacle as the presidential race gears up.

** SOUTH CHINA SEA. Some positive news here with regard to the Asia-Pacific Pivot strategy and one of the world's most strategically significant bodies of water, over which, to the dismay of its neighbors, China claims near total sovereignty. After a few months of activity, China last week stopped building artificial islands which can serve as military bases to back up its extraordinary claim.

In a perhaps related development, US, Japanese, and Filipino forces are beginning a joint exercise there.

On the whole, not a very promising panorama, is it? We're wandering down too many blind alleys stemming from 9/11 and a long ago cold war.

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