Garrisoning the planet is just part of it. The Pentagon and US intelligence services are also running covert special forces and spy operations, launching drone attacks, building bases and secret prisons, training, arming, and funding local security forces, and engaging in a host of other militarized activities right up to full-scale war. But while you consider this, keep one fact in mind: the odds are that there is no longer a single nation in the arc of instability in which the United States is in no way militarily involved.
Covenant of the arc....
"Freedom is on the march in the broader Middle East," the president said in his speech. "The hope of liberty now reaches from Kabul to Baghdad to Beirut and beyond. Slowly but surely, we're helping to transform the broader Middle East from an arc of instability into an arc of freedom."
An arc of freedom. You could be forgiven if you thought that this was an excerpt from President Barack Obama's Arab Spring speech, where he said, "[I]t will be the policy of the United States to ... support transitions to democracy." Those were, however, the words of his predecessor George W Bush. The giveaway is that phrase "arc of instability", a core rhetorical concept of the former president's global vision and that of his neo-conservative supporters.
The dream of the Bush years was to militarily dominate that arc, which largely coincided with the area from North Africa to the Chinese border, also known as the Greater Middle East, but sometimes was said to stretch from Latin America to Southeast Asia. While the phrase has been dropped in the Obama years, when it comes to projecting military power President Barack Obama is in the process of trumping his predecessor.
In addition to waging more wars in "arc" nations, Obama has overseen the deployment of greater numbers of special operations forces to the region, has transferred or brokered the sale of substantial quantities of weapons there, while continuing to build and expand military bases at a torrid rate, as well as training and supplying large numbers of indigenous forces.
Pentagon documents and open source information indicate that there is not a single country in that arc in which US military and intelligence agencies are not now active. This raises questions about just how crucial the American role has been in the region's increasing volatility and destabilization.
Flooding the arc...
Given the centrality of the arc of instability to Bush administration thinking, it was hardly surprising that it launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and carried out limited strikes in three other arc states - Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia. Nor should anyone have been shocked that it also deployed elite military forces and special operators from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) elsewhere within the arc.
In his book The One Percent Doctrine, journalist Ron Suskind reported on CIA plans, unveiled in September 2001 and known as the "Worldwide Attack Matrix" for "detailed operations against terrorists in 80 countries". At about the same time, then-secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld proclaimed that the nation had embarked on "a large multi-headed effort that probably spans 60 countries". By the end of the Bush years, the Pentagon would indeed have special operations forces deployed in 60 countries around the world.
It has been the Obama administration, however, that has embraced the concept far more fully and engaged the region even more broadly. Last year, the Washington Post reported that US had deployed special operations forces in 75 countries, from South America to Central Asia.
Recently, however, US Special Operations Command spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told me that on any given day, America's elite troops are working in about 70 countries, and that its country total by year's end would be around 120. These forces are engaged in a host of missions, from Army Rangers involved in conventional combat in Afghanistan to the team of Navy SEALs who assassinated Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, to trainers from the army, navy, air force, and marines within US Special Operations Command working globally from the Dominican Republic to Yemen.
The United States is now involved in wars in six arc-of-instability nations: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. It has military personnel deployed in other arc states, including Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates.
Of these countries, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Djibouti, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all host US military bases, while the CIA is reportedly building a secret base somewhere in the region for use in its expanded drone wars in Yemen and Somalia. It is also using already existing facilities in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the United Arab Emirates for the same purposes, and operating a clandestine base in Somalia where it runs indigenous agents and carries out counterterrorism training for local partners.
In addition to its own military efforts, the Obama administration has also arranged for the sale of weaponry to regimes in arc states across the Middle East, including Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. It has been indoctrinating and schooling indigenous military partners through the State Department's and Pentagon's International Military Education and Training program.
Last year, it provided training to more than 7,000 students from 130 countries. "The emphasis is on the Middle East and Africa because we know that terrorism will grow, and we know that vulnerable countries are the most targeted," Kay Judkins, the program's policy manager, recently told the American Forces Press Service.
According to Pentagon documents released earlier this year, the US has personnel - some in token numbers, some in more sizeable contingents - deployed in 76 other nations sometimes counted in the arc of instability: Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Syria, Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Venezuela, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
While arrests of 30 members of an alleged CIA spy ring in Iran earlier this year may be, like earlier incarcerations of supposed American "spies", pure theater for internal consumption or international bargaining, there is little doubt that the US is conducting covert operations there, too.
Last year, reports surfaced that US black ops teams had been authorized to run missions inside that country, and spies and local proxies are almost certainly at work there as well. Just recently, the Wall Street Journal revealed a series of "secret operations on the Iran-Iraq border" by the US military and a coming CIA campaign of covert operations aimed at halting the smuggling of Iranian arms into Iraq.
All of this suggests that there may, in fact, not be a single nation within the arc of instability, however defined, in which the United States is without a base or military or intelligence personnel, or where it is not running agents, sending weapons, conducting covert operations or at war.
The arc of history...
Just after Obama came into office in 2009, then-Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair briefed the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Drawing special attention to the arc of instability, he summed up the global situation this way: "The large region from the Middle East to South Asia is the locus for many of the challenges facing the United States in the twenty-first century."
Since then, as with the Bush-identified phrase "global war on terror", the Obama administration and the US military have largely avoided using "arc of instability", preferring to refer to it using far vaguer formulations.
During a speech at the National Defense Industrial Association's annual Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Symposium earlier this year, for example, Navy Admiral Eric Olson, then the chief of US Special Operations Command, pointed toward a composite satellite image of the world at night.
More recently, in remarks at the Paul H Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC, John O Brennan, the assistant to the president for homeland security and counter-terrorism, outlined the president's new National Strategy for Counter-terrorism, which highlighted carrying out missions in the "Pakistan-Afghanistan region" and "a focus on specific regions, including what we might call the periphery - places like Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and the Maghreb [northern Africa]."
"This does not," Brennan insisted, "require a 'global' war" - and indeed, despite the Bush-era terminology, it never has. While, for instance, planning for the 9/11 attacks took place in Germany and would-be shoe-bomber Richard Reid hailed from the United Kingdom, advanced, majority-white Western nations have never been American targets. The "arc" has never arced out of the global south, whose countries are assumed to be fundamentally unstable by nature and their problems fixable through military intervention.
A decade's evidence has made it clear that US operations in the arc of instability are destabilizing. For years, to take one example, Washington has wielded military aid, military actions, and diplomatic pressure in such a way as to undermine the government of Pakistan, promote factionalism within its military and intelligence services, and stoke anti-American sentiment to remarkable levels among the country's population. (According to a recent survey, just 12% of Pakistanis have a positive view of the United States.)
A semi-secret drone war in that nation's tribal borderlands, involving hundreds of missile strikes and significant, if unknown levels, of civilian casualties, has been only the most polarizing of Washington's many ham-handed efforts. When it comes to that CIA-run effort, a recent Pew survey of Pakistanis found that 97% of respondents viewed it negatively, a figure almost impossible to achieve in any sort of polling.
In Yemen, long-time support - in the form of aid, military training, and weapons, as well as periodic air or drone strikes - for dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh led to a special relationship between the US and elite Yemeni forces led by Saleh's relatives. This year, those units have been instrumental in cracking down on the freedom struggle there, killing protesters and arresting dissenting officers who refused orders to open fire on civilians.
It's hardly surprising that, even before Yemen slid into a leaderless void (after Saleh was wounded in an assassination attempt), a survey of Yemenis found - again a jaw-dropping polling figure - 99% of respondents viewed the US government's relations with the Islamic world unfavorably, while just 4% "somewhat" or "strongly approved" of Saleh's cooperation with Washington.
Instead of pulling back from operations in Yemen, however, the US has doubled down. The CIA, with support from Saudi Arabia's intelligence service, has been running local agents as well as a lethal drone campaign aimed at Islamic militants. The US military has been carrying out its own air strikes, as well as sending in more trainers to work with indigenous forces, while American black ops teams launch lethal missions, often alongside Yemeni allies.
These efforts have set the stage for further ill-will, political instability, and possible blowback. Just last year, a US drone strike accidentally killed Jabr al-Shabwani, the son of strongman Sheikh Ali al-Shabwani. In an act of revenge, Ali repeatedly attacked of one of Yemen's largest oil pipelines, resulting in billions of dollars in lost revenue for the Yemeni government, and demanded Saleh stop cooperating with the US strikes.
Earlier this year, in Egypt and Tunisia, long-time US efforts to promote what it liked to call "regional stability" - through military alliances, aid, training, and weaponry - collapsed in the face of popular movements against the US-supported dictators ruling those nations.
Similarly, in Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, popular protests erupted against authoritarian regimes partnered with and armed courtesy of the US military.
It's hardly surprising that, when asked in a recent survey whether Obama had met the expectations created by his 2009 speech in Cairo, where he called for "a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world", only 4% of Egyptians answered "yes". (The same poll found only 6% of Jordanians thought so and just 1% of Lebanese.)
A recent Zogby poll of respondents in six Arab countries - Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - found that, taking over from a president who had propelled anti-Americanism in the Muslim world to an all-time high, Obama managed to drive such attitudes even higher. Substantial majorities of Arabs in every country now view the US as not contributing "to peace and stability in the Arab world".
Increasing instability across the globe
United States interference in the arc of instability is certainly nothing new. Leaving aside current wars, over the last century, the United States has engaged in military interventions in the global south in Cambodia, Congo, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Egypt, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Iraq, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Libya, Panama, the Philippines, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Somalia, Thailand, and Vietnam, among other places. The CIA has waged covert campaigns in many of the same countries, as well as Afghanistan, Algeria, Chile, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, and Syria, to name just a few.
Like George W Bush before him, Barack Obama evidently looks out on the "unlit world" and sees a source of global volatility and danger for the United States. His answer has been to deploy US military might to blunt instability, shore up allies, and protect American lives.
Despite the salient lesson of 9/11- interventions abroad beget blowback at home - he has waged wars in response to blowback that have, in turn, generated more of the same. A recent Rasmussen poll indicates that most Americans differ with the president when it comes to his idea of how the US should be involved abroad.
Seventy-five percent of voters, for example, agreed with this proposition in a recent poll: "The United States should not commit its forces to military action overseas unless the cause is vital to our national interest." In addition, clear majorities of Americans are against defending Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and a host of other arc of instability countries, even if they are attacked by outside powers.
After decades of overt and covert US interventions in arc states, including the last 10 years of constant warfare, most are still poor, underdeveloped, and seemingly even more unstable. This year, in their annual failed state index - a ranking of the most volatile nations on the planet - Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace placed the two arc nations that have seen the largest military interventions by the US - Iraq and Afghanistan - in their top ten. Pakistan and Yemen ranked 12th and 13th, respectively, while Somalia the site of US interventions under president Bill Clinton in the 1990s, during the Bush presidency in the 2000s, and again under Obama - had the dubious honor of being number one.
For all the discussions here about (armed) "nation-building efforts" in the region, what we've clearly witnessed is a decade of nation unbuilding that ended only when the peoples of various Arab lands took their futures into their own hands and their bodies out into the streets.
As recent polling in arc nations indicates, people of the global south see the United States as promoting or sustaining, not preventing, instability, and objective measures bear out their claims. The fact that numerous popular uprisings opposing authoritarian rulers allied with the US have proliferated this year provides the strongest evidence yet of that.
With Americans balking at defending arc-of-instability nations, with clear indications that military interventions don't promote stability, and with a budget crisis of epic proportions at home, it remains to be seen what pretexts the Obama administration will rely on to continue a failed policy - one that seems certain to make the world more volatile and put American citizens at greater risk.
Nick Turse is a historian, investigative journalist.
By Ali Gharib
WASHINGTON - As the George W Bush administration built the case for war with Iraq in the early 2000s, press accounts picked up bits of leaked intelligence that described a weapons of mass destruction threat from then president Saddam Hussein. But once the United States military entered Iraq, they found nothing.
Now, with neo-conservatives and other Washington hawks campaigning for ever more aggressive actions against Iran, they must contend with the specter of Iraq and a popular skepticism that accompanies claims of weapons programs. A new report from Washington's Atlantic Council aims to sort out the mess by asking: "How reliable is intelligence on Iran's nuclear program?"
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful medical work and
energy production, but many suspect a clandestine weapons program.
In a few words, US intelligence on Iran's nuclear activities is "not bad", said Inter Press Service (IPS) contributor and report author Barbara Slavin at an event. "There is less of a chance of underestimating or over-hyping the Iran threat."
The report takes a similarly mild tone, declaring intelligence on Iran's nuclear program is "better and worse than Iraq". The most damaging information in the run-up to the Iraq war was largely single-source, and thought to be deeply politicized because the Bush administration was pushing for confrontation and needed to back it up with a threat.
"Nuclear and intelligence specialists say there have been major improvements in the way US intelligence is collected and analyzed since 2002," said the council report, "and that this sort of distortion could not take place now even if the [President Barack] Obama administration was eager to attack Iran, which does not appear to be the case."
But shortfalls still exist. Iran's leadership structure that makes the decisions is opaque. And access by international organizations, such as the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is limited. Iran is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which guarantees its right to a peaceful nuclear program, but withdrew from a broader inspections regime called the Additional Protocols in 2006.
But in some ways the actual intelligence collection has improved, too: "[O]bstacles are better compensated for with better technical intelligence," says the report, "as well as human intelligence from defectors and others still in Iran."
Panelists said getting Iran to voluntarily give access to its nuclear sites and information about its program was crucial.
"Part of the reason for the [international] pressure and the justification for it is that it's worked in the past," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security. He cited examples such as South Africa, Brazil and Libya, which had given up their weapons programs because of pressure.
"Iran," Albright said, "has to be worried about doing something in secret because they've been exposed so many times."
Indeed, Iran raises such strong suspicious particularly because so many various aspects of its program have been clandestinely developed and only revealed either by foreign governments or by Iran because of pressure.
Paul Pillar, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst now at Georgetown University, emphasized the importance of being able to return to a full inspections regime in order to verify that no nuclear materials got diverted to a secret weapons program.
"The single best source of information about things of this sort - and this is true about Iraq and Iran - is an international inspections regime," he said. The intelligence community is not designed to make "up or down judgments on things like this".
Pillar added, "Things don't become intelligence issues if we're sure about them in the first place."
Some of Iran's progress, said the report, has been blocked by international sanctions, particularly those passed by the UN Security Council in June 2010 that restricted the sale of material for nuclear development to Iran.
"Iran used to be able to exploit loopholes, but now they're running into brick walls," said Slavin at the Council event. The UN sanctions "are difficult to implement, but they're slowly being implemented".
But the biggest hurdle to knowing what Iran is up to with its nuclear development remains determining just what Iran's leadership cohort wants the program to accomplish.
Understanding Iran's program is "at least as much about intentions as about capabilities", said Pillar. And the US and its allies suffer from a "lack of access to the inner circles where decisions are made".
Pillar's assessment, with which the council report concurred, is that those crucial decisions about how far to take the nuclear program "are yet to be made" by the Iranians.
"It is still possible to dissuade Iran," Slavin....
[In a rare interview with the master of America's "limited warfare" doctrine, at the home of the New World Order, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, Mike Vickers shares his thoughts on fighting "Islamic" terrorism and his strategy of recruiting local armies to fight against "failing governments," like that in Pakistan (his example). It is as close to an admission of guilt that his strategy has been to support the anti-Pakistan forces (TTP) as an American contractor, as you are ever likely to read.]
Mike Vickers’, the ultimate Nuclear Terrorist... own thoughts on “irregular warfare,” given at the Council On Foreign Relations (CFR)
October 27, 2006
Council on Foreign Relations
New York, NY
Military Strategies for Unconventional Warfare [Rush Transcript; Federal News Service]
VICKERS: The use of locals really is very dependent on contingencies. So if you’re trying to find al-CIAda terrorists around the world, you really have no choice. I mean, you may play a significant role in some cases with signals intelligence or unilateral human intelligence, clandestine human intelligence, but you’re almost certainly going to arrest the people and in many cases find them with local police or intelligence forces of some kind or another. I mean, the problem is just too daunting. It’s a 1.2 billion sea that really swims in a larger sea than that, and there’s just no other operational alternative....
Then, if you looked at state failure in larger countries with larger populations—I mean, don’t want to say this—too much, but Pakistan, 150 million people. If we didn’t ally with friendly Pakistanis, it’s just not a workable solution under—you know, unless we mobilize American society to do it.
[Here Vickers is admitting two damning bits of evidence against his efforts—“1.2 billion” refers to all Muslims being suspects, and his strategy calls for recruiting Pakistani hands to do the dirty work.—editor]
Now, as far as bringing in others into the fight, that’s very—everybody wants to do that, and you always here this, “Where are our allies and stuff?” It’s very problematic in irregular warfare. The people with the biggest dog in the fight are the locals involved directly in intra-state conflict. Then perhaps a great power like us that wants order in the area and is taking responsibility has the next biggest stake in it. Others—I mean, asking the Indians to go and die on a protracted basis for something where they don’t have a vital interest has been doomed to failure, and I think it will continue to be doomed for failure.
[An indigenous force is the only solution, since India can’t be counted on to take-on Pakistan for us.—editor]
I mean, it’s something that successive administrations keep trying to do. There’s been things like Global Peace Operations...i.e. covert wars by the criminal ZOG in USA.... Initiative or others, you know. Can we contract soldiers out from around the world? And I just think that it’s rubbing up against that problem, that, you know, they’re not going to—you know, if we’re having a problem sustaining forces to fight and die for that, why would you expect any other country, other than the locals, who have less interest to do that?
SHANKER: But Michael, how do you mitigate the risk when you use indigenous forces? Afghanistan, OEF, perfect example. Our Afghan allies fought very well up to Tora Bora, and then, if the public narrative is true—and Sean Naylor’s (sp) here; he’ll back me up on this—the backdoor was left open by our Afghan allies. In Pakistan today—Pakistan’s been a very important ally, but the Northwest Territories are a safe haven, so how do we get that right?
VICKERS: Well, again, I mean, I don’t believe—I have to say, I don’t believe the Tora Bora myth. I mean, it took us three years to find Zarqawi in Iraq, where we had 140,000 troops, and we were hunting him day and night and it’s flat as a pancake, and there’s urban cities and that’s it. So the idea that you’re going to do this in the white mountains of—you know, and it was simply because someone let him get away, I just don’t subscribe to that. We have a hard time finding people in North Carolina; you know, it takes us five years. So I just think that’s a big myth that’s been perpetuated, but just operationally not credible.
Again, Pakistan is a critical ally in the war on terror, but life’s not perfect. But again, what’s the alternative—invade the Northwest Frontier Provinces? Good luck. You know—and so there’s a—you know, there’s a time and place. But the question is: If we’re going to rally a lot of the world in—against Islamic terrorism, we’re going to have to rely on the locals. There simply is no alternative. And I mean, anything else, I think, is just wishful thinking.
[If the Taliban's usual spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility, then it must be true. It also means that if he was an enemy of the Afghan Taliban then he was also an enemy of Pakistan. The game or "reconciliation," like the corresponding game of "good Taliban/bad Taliban," is a massive ruse carried-out by ISI and CIA, to dangle before the people like a tasty carrot, leading them like so many donkeys in harnesses. Like in the previous incarnation of this deception, concerning Mullah Baradar, whenever hopes get too high, the chief "negotiators" are taken out of the way. The Taliban/Pakistan played along with Karzai's High Peace Council attempts until now, when their turban-clad assassins could be moved into place to squash them, as Karzai had squashed the ruse being generated by the American side with another Taliban "negotiator," Tayyab Agha.
There is nothing real in any of this, no truth can be found anywhere about America's terror war, especially in any alleged effort to bring it all to an end. That is the very last thing on American leaders' murderous minds.]