Tomahawks and Trump: The failure of ‘America First’ foreign policy

I wrote this for a debate piece that never went forward. It has been in my backlog since the cruise missile strike in Syria. I thought, instead of letting it go to waste, I would publish it. I stand by the central argument anyway, so updating would not achieve anything.

Trump’s cruise-missile strike cost sixty million dollars. Let that marinate; each of the 59 Raytheon-built Tomahawk missiles costs the US taxpayer just over $1 million. Put another way; Trump could have fed 22,000 homebound senior citizens for a year through Meals on Wheels America. You may recognise the name. It is the charity that had a surge in funding because the golfer-in-chief’s “American First” budget slashed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by 17.9%. The HHS’s Older Americans Act Nutrition Program provides 35% of Meals on Wheels funding. Trump’s ‘America First’ style of governance is turning out to be pretty costly for Americans.

My bleeding heart aside though, the strike was imbecilic. In a world where Trump has his, Erik Prince, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ brother and Blackwater founder, attempting to establish a Putin backchannel in the Seychelles (The Washington Post), why on earth would he court open war with Russia and Iran over a marginally successful tactical strike? Moreover, before anyone gets their hackles up about the ‘W’ word, that is straight from the horses’ mouth. The Daily Telegraph reported that the Syrian strike had crossed a “red line” with Russia and Iran, with the former’s UK embassy saying: “From now on we will respond with force.”

The issue here is not only with Trump, however, but with US strategy in the Middle East in general. As renowned counter-terrorism scholar Audrey Kurth Cronin puts it: “[the] problem in any endless war is that tactics gradually take the place of strategy.” While she was discussing the use of targeted killings against terrorists, her words ring true universally. Tactical short-sightedness has become a facet of America’s endless war in the Middle East. The President has become the ‘tactician-in-chief,’ performing reactionary acts of aggression as a balm for the rage and guilt of the Western masses. Like a stuck record, the asses who sit at the Oval Office’s desk seem to believe war crimes and terror require an immediate escalation of violence. If only they would consider the extent to which they are complicit in creating the Syrian quagmire.

What’s more, the bombardment is flagrantly opposed to the tradition and law of armed conflict. The US Congress has not declared a state of armed conflict with Syria. The UN Security Council has not given its assent to US hostilities against the Assad regime. Moreover, there remain few legitimate justifications for the unilateral US response. While there is now little doubt that Assad’s regime sanctioned the chemical attack, independent verification came after the Tomahawk bombardment. Furthermore, while the Trump’s stilted and robotic speech stressed the importance of reprisals for the Khan Sheikhoun attack, there was and is no rational reason for the modus employed.

Additionally, despite conflicting reports on the capacity of the Syria air force to fly sorties from Shayrat airfield after the strike (some report flights mere hours after), the strike has had little positive effect. Pausing Syrian jets for a few weeks is not the same as having a coherent strategy for dealing with the Syrian crisis. Furthermore, stopping planes does not exonerate the Trump Administration’s unilateral response; Assad will just continue with the far less discriminate helicopter-launched ‘barrel’ bombs.

Lastly, in somewhat of a predictable conclusion, Trump has pivoted, changing his stance on NATO’s relevance – despite the fact he has done more than any other global actor to make NATO necessary. In a week, Trump has managed to squander millions of dollars in an austerity budget, alienate Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea (more than they already were), and shown himself to me the most spectacular hypocrite in recent political history. The cycle continues: promise a simplistic outlook on a highly complex issue, flip-flop once it is no longer politically expedient, and adopt the most mainstream Washington-elite strategy.

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Drone Warfare, Put Simply

Drones are remotely piloted or autonomous vehicles. Today, they are commercially available as hobby and professional platforms for aerial photography and search and rescue. However, their larger cousins have been utilised by armed forces across the world since WWII for covert surveillance, air support, and targeted killing missions.

These larger drones are usually referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), and unmanned aerial systems (UAS, singular and plural). They have seen most of their action in the Middle East and Horn of Africa, utilised by the United States, United Kingdom, and Israel against insurgent groups.

On paper, the most well-known large combat drones, the General Atomics MQ-1B Predator and MQ-9 Reaper, are highly discriminate, accurate, and safe surveillance and kinetic strike platforms. They use highly advanced Hellfire air-to-ground missiles for precision strikes and can hover for up to a day for target acquisition. However, in practice, drones suffer from a range of strategic and ethical flaws:

  • Today, drones are almost entirely operated by humans. As with traditional pilots, they are subject to errors in judgement such as confirmation bias.
  • Drones are highly dependent on This information often comes from signals intelligence (SIGINT) and tip-offs, which are subject to bias, falsification, and misinterpretation.
  • Drones almost entirely preclude the ‘winning hearts and minds’ of traditional counter-insurgency (COIN)
  • Drones can attack targets with no chance of reciprocity.
  • Drone strikes often cause extensive collateral damage

Additionally, the way drones are used by the states above is often legally dubious. While their use in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya is justified under the assumption that Britain and America were in armed conflict in these countries, they have also been used for targeted kill missions (assassinations) in Yemen, Syria, Somalia, and Pakistan, against various non-state actors. The debate continues over whether or not Drones are “the only game in town” as former CIA director Leon Panetta once said. What is clear, however, is that our laws and traditions of what is just in war are often ill-equipped for new military hardware.

However, there are further issues with drones; they are expensive investments. While some academics and armed forces argue they are cost effective, when you factor in failure rates and logistics, drones are vastly more costly than conventional aircraft (Reaper drones require over 170 personnel to operate). The UK government maintains a fleet of 10 MQ-9 Reapers, which they purchased from the US for approximately £500m, with plans to buy another 10 for £100m. Additionally, between 2007 and 2012 the UK government spent in the region of £2B procuring or developing drones (the original Reaper purchase included), with over £1B going to the Watchkeeper, a failed unarmed drone prototype with less than 200 hours of active service.

Drones may look good on paper as tactically expedient systems. However, politicians have historically been unable to view them in a larger strategic context, where the blowback from their use in targeted killings and their propensity to kill civilians cause more harm to the UK and US’s perception in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Drones have been used successfully to damage the capacity of insurgent groups, but the costs, both financial and strategic, may end up being too high.

Further Reading:

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

The Intercept

A Brief History of Drones by John Sifton

Drone Warfare by John Kaag and Sarah Kreps

The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program by Jeremy Scahill and the staff of The Intercept

Originally published at Talk Politics.

Source: Drone Warfare, Put Simply

Let’s Talk Xbox: Halo’s Grifball Returns, Quantum Break & more- APGNation

Let’s Talk Xbox: Halo’s Grifball Returns, Quantum Break & more- APGNation

In last week’s Let’s Talk Xbox I covered the start of the February 2016 Season for Halo 5: Guardians Arena, the matchmaking improvements it brought and the new Arena REQ Bundle. Over the weekend, 343 Industries published the preview for their February update, Hammer Storm, on Halo Waypoint. The update will include a new Arena map, two armour sets, the return of Grifball, and updates to armour and emblem personalisation.

I am happy to see the return of fan favourite game type Grifball, and the addition of Assault, Fiesta and custom game types such as Oddball and Ricochet will add some much-needed depth to the multiplayer experience. That said, I want some Infection in my life, so let’s hope 343 continue to deliver. In a similar fashion, I am excited to see what 343 have in store for us with Torque, the new Arena map. Most of the updates to date have been remixes or small variations on the maps at launch, so something entirely new is a welcome change.

Read the full weekly segment at APGNation.

Huffpost Gjoni ‘Gamergate’ Hit Piece Backfires

Huffpost Gjoni ‘Gamergate’ Hit Piece Backfires

A reporter at the Huffington Post attempted to contact a subject via Tumblr, displaying an absolute disregard for journalistic professionalism.

Yesterday Nick Visser at The Huffington Post reported that indie games developer Zoe Quinn had withdrawn her legal case against Eron Gjoni. The aftermath of the couple’s breakup has long been held as one of the catalysts for the Gamergate controversy, following the publication of ‘the Zoe Post’ by Gjoni. The inflammatory post outlined the collapse of their relationship and suggested that Quinn had been in a sexual relationship with Nathan Grayson, a journalist with Kotaku. Whether or not their relationship constituted a conflict of interest in Grayson’s coverage of Quinn’s games is a point of contention in the community, despite claims by Stephen Totilo, Kotaku’s editor-in-chief.

Visser’s report outlines Quinn’s decision to end her controversial legal proceedings against Gjoni. The suit, Van Valkerburg v. Gjoni [sic] (court filed typo), attracted serious legal attention, with renowned First Amendment attorney Professor Eugene Volokh producing a friend-of-the-court brief in favor of Gjoni. Quinn, going by Chelsea Van Valkenburg during the legal proceedings, had obtained a gag order against Gjoni, limiting his speech concerning her and their past. A Massachusetts trial court issued the order stating that Gjoni is “Ordered not to post any further information about the [plaintiff] or her personal life on line or to encourage “hate mobs.”” Volokh argued that the order was “a clear violation of the First Amendment,” going on to explain that while certain forms of speech, such as threats, are not protected, the order went far beyond what would be required to limit criminal speech. Further coverage of the legal battle between Van Valkenburg and Gjoni can be read at The Washington Post.

Gjoni reacted to the news on Twitter.

On the surface, there does not seem to be much at fault with Visser’s reporting. However, if you look at social media, you see the absolute breakdown of journalistic professionalism that went into his coverage. Before the report was edited, it claimed Gjoni had been reached for comment. Upon hearing of this, Gjoni responded “Correct me if I’m wrong but — statements like “Gjoni couldn’t immediately be reached” should be reserved for after you TRY right?” As it turns out, Visser had reached out to the embattled Gjoni via Tumblr. Not only is this irregular and unprofessional, but it may also have been a considered strategic decision on the Huffpost writer’s part.

Gjoni suggests that Visser’s failure to mention his rebuttal on Tumblr is directly linked to Visser’s decision to use the social media platform as his backchannel. What strikes this author as odd, is that Visser’s editor did not take any issue with the clear slant in the reporting, or the blatant shortfall in professionalism. I would also question the ethical propriety of allowing such a slanted report to be published when the reporter’s bias is implicit in their communications with Gjoni.

What should have been a simple report, ‘Quinn calls off legal action against Gjoni, context’ ended up being a publicity opportunity for Quinn, a smear against Gjoni, and an embarrassment for The Huffington Post. This brief report has deliberately omitted any further examination of Visser’s intent concerning the title “Woman Targeted In ‘GamerGate’ Harassment Drops Charges”, which in of itself is a problematic clause, as there is not a single instance of an ‘alleged’ to be seen. Additionally, for brevity’s sake, the author has decided not to discuss how overly simplistic Visser chose to be when discussing the current political and legislative climate surrounding online harassment. Suffice to say, the topic deserves more nuance than is to be found in the bottom few paragraphs of a rushed report. Lastly, it is this author’s opinion that Quinn was being uncharacteristically earnest with her indication that she ‘fear[ed] of setting the wrong precedent for e-harassment if she lost the case’, becauseGjoni has previously argued that whenever his legal team neared a turning point, she would adjust the complaint against him or withdraw some sort form of legal pressure. Simply put, she was scared that her wrongful prosecution and censorship of Gjoni may have led to case law preventing this kind of sham case appearing in court again.

In conclusion, Visser’s coverage has led to a significant backlash on Twitter, with many users offering the reporter derision for the poor professional conduct he displayed. Whether or not Visser intended to write a slanted piece is only for him to know, but if it was his intent, all he has done is give Gamergate further ammunition and legitimize yet another of their grievances against the press.

Quinn followed her blog post with a tweet, saying that she would not stop fighting, despite the end of her legal case against Gjoni.

View story at Medium.com

Let’s Talk Xbox: Halo 5: Guardians February Season, Titanfall 2 News and More- APGNation

Let’s Talk Xbox: Halo 5: Guardians February Season, Titanfall 2 News and More- APGNation

In case you haven’t been on your console in the last few of days, here is some Xbox news for your eyeballs.

 

Let's Talk Xbox Arena REQ Bundle 343 Industries/Microsoft
The new Arena REQ Bundle Halo Waypoint/343 Industries

 

Last week I covered Halo 5: Guardians‘ latest update Infinity’s Armor. The update brought new REQs, two new multiplayer maps (Riptide for Arena and Urban for Warzone Assault), and the return of the Halo 2 Battle Rifle. I only got queued once for Urban, so can’t comment on how good it is, but I’ve played a lot of Riptide which was a surprisingly good remix of Fathom and lots of fun on Swat. If these remixes are anything to go by, I am willing to withdraw some of my earlier pessimism about 343i’s approach to multiplayer updates.

You can read the rest of this week’s segment at APGNation.

Let’s Talk Xbox: Halo 5: Guardians Infinity’s Armor- APGNation

Let’s Talk Xbox: Halo 5: Guardians Infinity’s Armor- APGNation

If you are a Halo fan, I am sure by now you have heard about the upcoming update for January 2016, Infinity’s Armor. As promised, each month 343 Industries will be releasing a content update to coincide with the next month’s multiplayer season. Last update we got the much-anticipated Forge, new maps for Warzone and some tweaks to the Arena playlists, and in November we saw Halo 5’s take on Big Team Battles. Suffice to say the community divided on how these updates have turned out. Some like the increased complexity and control in Forge, others the move toward a more eSports-friendly and competitive Arena system, yet there are some who question the approach. They claim the game’s new stewards aren’t quite cutting it with the lack of playlists, join-in-progress system, and ‘remixed’ map variants.

Read the weekly segment at APGNation.

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New Assassination Animation gif from Infinity’s Armor 343 Industries/Microsoft