Blog single

Blackwater USA | Daily Brief

U.S.

  • The Economist had a good opinion piece that explains why it’s a big deal that Pres. Trump may have pressured a foreign leader to investigate a rival’s son. In short: “In a country as corrupt and vulnerable as Ukraine the link between American support and investigating the Bidens—you give us dirt on Joe and we’ll give you weapons and money—did not need to be explicit to be understood.” (Full article pasted below)
  • Impeachment isn’t enough for kooky California congresswoman Maxine Waters: she called for Pres. Trump to be “imprisoned & placed in solitary confinement.”

Brexit

  • PM Johnson plans to deliver his “final offer” on a Brexit plan to the EU today, so we’ll see how that goes.

Mexico

  • Stratfor printed an excellent op-ed advocating for a counter-insurgency approach to Mexico’s drug cartel problems—it’s printed below.

Hong Kong

  • Analysts are saying that yesterday’s point-blank shooting of a protester in Hong Kong was a turning point in the uprising (the victim is in stable condition), and Hong Kong’s police chief called yesterday “one of Hong Kong’s most violent and chaotic days.”

North Korea

  • The U.S. and North Korea announced that they’ll resume nuclear talks on Saturday—and then North Korea promptly fired a ballistic missile towards Japan to demonstrate how serious it is about disarmament.

Somalia

  • The Pentagon now says that one U.S. soldier sustained non-life-threatening injuries in Monday’s Al Shabaab attack on the U.S. base at Baledogle.

Syria

  • Syria and Iraq reopened a border crossing that had been closed since 2012 to prevent IS militants from sneaking across, and hailed the event as a sign of progress against terrorism.

Iraq

  • Hundreds of Iraqi protesters were wounded when police fired live rounds and tear gas to disperse the largest demonstrations against Pres. Mahdi’s government to date. Protesters are frustrated with the usual issues: corruption and lack of jobs/services.

Iran

  • Iran’s oil minister struck a gentle and conciliatory tone in remarks to journalists in Moscow. He called Saudi’s energy minister an old friend, and promised that Iran was doing its best to make peace with Saudi.

Yemen

  • Houthi leader Abdul-Malek al-Houthi met with UN envoy Martin Griffiths in Sanaa to talk about reviving peace talks—that’s the latest in a series of hints that the Houthis want to deescalate.

Afghanistan

  • The Taliban has intensified its attacks on ANSF troops and facilities—especially in the north—since Saturday’s election. The worst of it was in Takhar, where several days of fighting left at least 30 ANSF dead.
  • Meanwhile, a Taliban delegation will visit Pakistan on an outreach trip to discuss “important issues.” RFE/RL suspects the main point of the meeting—and of the Taliban’s recent meetings with Russia, China, and Iran—is for the Taliban to tell its side of the story of why talks with the U.S. broke down.

Strategic Minerals & Mining

  • Ecuador announced that it will leave OPEC on Jan. 1, 2020 because it needs to produce more oil than OPEC quotas allow, in order to solve the fiscal challenges it faces. Ecuador is a small producer anyway (545,000 bpd), so its departure and production growth won’t really affect the market.
  • Pala Investments raised the cash portion of its offer to buy Cobalt 27 by 12% in order to win the support of a shareholder who’d considered the previous valuation too low.
  • A group of 27 Republican senators and congressmen from Western states signed a letter asking Pres. Trump to ease restrictions on mining uranium on federal lands. They likely aim to influence a Cabinet-level committee that’s working on recommendations for boosting U.S. nuclear fuel production. We’ll see if their efforts worked when that committee reports its findings later this month.

Other News

  • Peru’s Pres. Vizcarra triggered a political crisis when he tried to dissolve the opposition-controlled legislature over corruption allegations. Legislators refused to leave the building, voted to fire Vizcarra, and swore in his VP to replace him. Peru now has two presidents: the military and governors are largely behind Vizcarra, while the private sector mainly stands behind VP Araoz.

The promise and the perils of impeachment (Economist)

In America Nancy Pelosi has moved against President Donald Trump. It is not the moment to cheer

America almost didn’t have a president. The men who arrived at the constitutional convention in 1787 brought with them a horror of monarchy. Absent a figure of George Washington’s stature, the young country might have adopted a parliamentary system of government. Yet having created the office, the founders had to devise a way to remove presidents who abuse their positions—not all people are Washingtons. They defined the mechanism: an impeachment vote in the House, followed by a trial in the Senate. The question of what exactly a president should be impeached for—“treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanours”—was deliberately left to Congress.

Hence, though impeachment is a constitutional provision, it is also a political campaign. That campaign began in earnest this week when Nancy Pelosi directed her Democratic colleagues in the House to begin impeachment hearings into President Donald Trump. This will not necessarily lead to impeachment. In the past, though, impeachment hearings have generated a momentum of their own. The process is fraught with risks on both sides. One thing seems certain: the process will further divide a country that is already set against itself.

Ms Pelosi has taken such a momentous step because she believes the president’s behaviour towards Ukraine’s government crossed a line. If that seems an obscure reason to contemplate unseating a president, remember that impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon had their origins in an office burglary and the ones against Bill Clinton began with an affair with an intern. Mr Trump appears to have let Ukraine’s government know that relations with America, including the supply of aid, depended on it pursuing an investigation into the family of a political rival—that would be more serious than a break-in or a fling. It would mean the president had subverted the national interest to pursue a political vendetta.

The federal government often gives foreign powers promises of aid in exchange for doing something that America wants them to do. The Ukraine case is different (see Briefing). America has an interest in ensuring that Ukraine is able to defend itself against Russian aggression, which is why Congress came up with a package of $391m in military aid for its newly elected government. Mr Trump acted against the national interest in putting that aid on hold, while pressing Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, to investigate Hunter Biden, who had business dealings in Ukraine and is the son of the Democratic front-runner, Joe Biden. If that were not clear enough, Mr Trump also sent his personal lawyer to meet an adviser to Mr Zelensky and repeat the message.

In a country as corrupt and vulnerable as Ukraine the link between American support and investigating the Bidens—you give us dirt on Joe and we’ll give you weapons and money—did not need to be explicit to be understood. “I also want to ensure you that we will be very serious about the case and will work on the investigation,” Mr Zelensky told Mr Trump in a call on July 25th.

You might have thought the Mueller investigation into his campaign’s dealings with Russia would have made Mr Trump wary of dallying with foreign governments. It seems not. His conduct looks a lot like bribery or extortion. And to use taxpayer funds and the might of the American state to pursue a political enemy would count as an abuse of power.

The founders wanted impeachment to be a practical option, not just a theoretical one. Otherwise the president would be above the law, a monarch sitting on a throne for four or eight years. Declining to impeach Mr Trump would set a precedent for future presidents: anything up to and including what the 45th president has done to date would be fair game. Republican partisans should consider to what depths a future Democratic president, thus emboldened, could stoop.

It would also signal to America’s allies and foes that snooping on Americans who are influential or might become so was a fine way to curry favour with a president. There would be no need for the dirt even to be true. Russia and China, are you listening?

Such are the risks of ducking impeachment. Yet the risks on the other side—of pressing forward—are great, too. Voters expect impeachment to be a last resort, not a trick by one party to remove a president from the other, or a means for the losers of an election to frustrate its result. House Democrats risk looking self-indulgent as, rather than getting on with fixing infrastructure or health care, they obsess over the minutiae of internal White House communications. The hearings may spin out of control and make Democratic politicians seem ineffectual and obsessive, as the stonewalling testimony of a former Trump aide, Corey Lewandowski, did last week. The hearings may also be too confusing and rancorous for the public to follow.

Even if the House did decide to impeach Mr Trump, it is highly unlikely that he would be found guilty by the two-thirds majority needed in the Senate, where Republicans hold 53 of 100 seats. Legally, Mr Biden junior’s sleazy dealings in Ukraine have no bearing on whether Mr Trump abused his office. Politically, though, the two are linked because they give Republican senators minded to defend Mr Trump a handy set of talking points.

A failed impeachment that leaves Mr Trump in office might not be much of a deterrent to this president or to a future one. In fact it might even help Mr Trump, who could argue that he had been found innocent after a partisan witch-hunt by loser-Democrats. Until this week that was the calculus of Ms Pelosi and House Democrats from competitive districts. It is not clear that public opinion has yet shifted enough to change the equation. Though it may be bravado, Mr Trump’s campaign team has always insisted that the more Democrats talk about impeachment the better it is for the president’s chances of re-election in 2020.

Cast the die

Faced with such a daunting choice, Ms Pelosi had until now held back. But Mr Trump appears to be becoming more brazen as re-election draws near. The president’s behaviour needs investigating, with the extra authority that the impeachment process confers. Better, therefore, to lean towards principle than pragmatism. But it is a risky and perilous path. ■

The Case for a Counterinsurgency Approach to Mexico’s Cartel Wars (Stratfor)

By Scott Stewart, Stratfor’s VP of Tactical Analysis

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Mexico has not designated its cartels as terrorist organizations, but it uses many counterterrorism tools and tactics to fight them.
  • Such an approach has weakened many cartels, causing several to implode, but it has done little to enhance the government’s legitimacy or address the issues that foster the rise of such groups.
  • Because cartels have grown strong due to corruption, incompetent governance, economic malaise, impunity and the absence of the rule of law, Mexico might require a holistic counterinsurgency approach that goes beyond military means to remedy the underlying issues that facilitate such criminality.

Just last week, I was chatting with someone on Twitter who stated his belief that Mexican drug cartels should be classified as “terrorists” because of their actions. It’s an idea, however, that I have long opposed: Cartels’ gratuitous violence notwithstanding, their actions do not really fit the definition of terrorism, which many broadly define as political violence directed toward civilians. To my mind, Mexican cartels have simply not yet emulated Colombia’s Pablo Escobar and his Medellin Cartel sicarios and engaged in political violence.

Still, it dawned on me that — definitions aside — the Mexican government and its U.S. ally have pursued the “war” on cartels using many of the same tools that we normally associate with the “global war on terror.” Mexican special operations forces routinely raid hideouts to capture or kill cartel leaders, as well as employ sophisticated intelligence tools to track or hack cartel communications devices and networks. In one February 2017 incident, Mexican marines poured fire from a helicopter armed with a minigun into a house in Tepic, Nayarit, killing a Beltran Leyva Organization leader and 11 of his henchmen. Widely circulated videos of the incident resembled something one would expect to see in an operation targeting the Islamic State rather than an anti-crime operation in the capital of a Mexican state. 

I certainly don’t fault the Mexican military for using military force against the cartels. Since the 1990s, the cartels have employed former soldiers armed with military-grade weapons in their enforcer units. But as we’ve seen in recent years, the military-based counterterrorism approach to combatting the cartels is not working. The government has captured or killed a long list of cartel leaders but failed to curb cartel violence. Indeed, 2019 is on track to be the most violent year ever in Mexico. Clearly, the Mexican government can’t capture or kill its way out of its cartel problem. Instead, the road to solving the country’s profound problems might lie along a different, more holistic, tack: a counterinsurgency model. Thinking of the cartels as criminal insurgents provides a valid blueprint for understanding the problem — as well as a road map for addressing it.   

Mexico’s Cartels Stage an Insurgency

The idea that Mexican cartels are criminal insurgents is not a revelation. In fact, Stratfor contributor John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker published an anthology in 2012 on the topic of Mexico’s criminal insurgency for Small Wars Journal. As it is, the U.S. military defines insurgency as “the organized use of subversion and violence to seize, nullify, or challenge political control of a region,” in its counterinsurgency doctrinal document, Joint Publication 3-24. And while Mexican cartels may not be seeking to establish an alternative government like a typical political insurgency, they are seeking to nullify or challenge the political control of territory to further their criminal operations.

Insurgents thrive in insecure areas that lack capable, credible governance. There are historical, geographic and political factors that have challenged Mexico City’s ability to govern and control parts of the country. Indeed, banditry, smuggling and other criminal activity have historically plagued ungoverned places such as the sparsely populated deserts and mountains of the country’s north.

Geography and terrain are important factors that enable an insurgency, and it is no coincidence that most successful insurgencies take advantage of rough terrain, such as mountains and deserts, to wage their operations. But even more important than the physical terrain is the human terrain, as insurgents who enjoy the support of the population tend to thrive, relying on locals for shelter, material support, recruits and even intelligence. Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong noted that favorable human terrain allows a guerrilla fighter “to move among the people as a fish moves in the sea,” and leftist and jihadist theorists alike have stressed the need to obtain local backing in their insurgencies. The cartels use a complicated combination of largesse and fear to ensure the population stays on their side. Indeed, Mexico’s Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera did not become a revered and respected cultural icon by mistake, but rather as the result of a carefully cultivated campaign. In the end, mere popular support couldn’t protect Guzman from the massive international effort to capture him, but it certainly complicated authorities’ efforts to locate him, allowing the cartel boss to remain freer for much longer than he would have otherwise.

In places like Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has conducted operations to destabilize areas in which it wants to operate by conducting targeted assassinations and engaging in efforts to influence or sway local leaders to its side. By offering “plata o plomo” (silver or lead), Mexican cartels operate in much the same way, seeking to tip the local population to their side, maintain their favorable standing or, at the very least, obtain locals’ fearful acquiescence by demonstrating the government’s powerlessness. In some ways, it is only when it comes to end goals that the Islamic State and Mexican cartels differ: Whereas the jihadist group wants to control territory for political power, cartels wish to do so for profit. 

Taking a Holistic Approach

As history has repeatedly demonstrated — including recent history in the war against jihadism — counterinsurgency is difficult. This is especially so when locals view the forces conducting the counterinsurgency as outsiders. For insular communities in the Mexican mountains, federal troops are nearly as foreign as U.S. troops in Afghanistan. At its heart, counterinsurgency is really more an art than a science, meaning it requires a great deal of foresight, patience and cultural understanding. Unlike the current counterterrorism approach, a counterinsurgency approach would go beyond mere military force to utilize all the tools of the national, state and local governments, including their political, economic, educational, health, legal and developmental resources. Getting all of Mexico’s conflicting political parties and state and local governments on board would present a challenge, but perhaps only measures that erode cartels’ support base will cut such enterprises down to size. 

As I have noted in the past, there is little difference in the geographic factors that influence the north and south banks of the Rio Grande. The vast majority of the drugs that flow north out of Tamaulipas pass through the Texas Rio Grande Valley, while most of the money that flows south ends up back in Tamaulipas. Indeed, the same criminal cartels that operate in Tamaulipas also operate in Texas, but there are worlds of difference in terms of how these groups operate depending on whether they’re on the U.S. or Mexican side of the line. As has become abundantly clear, they are far more aggressive and violent in Mexico than they are in the United States. It all goes to show that corruption, incompetent governance, economic malaise, impunity and the absence of the rule of law have allowed cartels to thrive and engage in wanton violence in Mexico. In essence, these are the same factors that have permitted groups such as the Islamic State West African Province to spread in Nigeria, Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin in northern Mali and other insurgent groups elsewhere.

Mexican governments have repeatedly tried to address the cartel problem through an institutional approach, focusing merely on reforming corrupt police agencies. The government of current President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is taking a similar path, creating a new Mexican National Guard and reviving the Secretariat of Public Security that his predecessor, Enrique Pena Nieto, abolished. These new institutions, however, have done little to reduce the violence wracking Mexico because they are not holistic and cannot address the underlying issues facilitating the criminal insurgencies. Lopez Obrador the candidate noted that corruption was the No. 1 problem facing Mexico, but Lopez Obrador the president has succeeded in doing very little about the issue.

To be successful, a counterinsurgency campaign must weaken the insurgent forces while building the government’s legitimacy. Mexico’s counterterrorism approach against the cartels has weakened many of the groups, causing several to implode, but it has done little to stem corruption or enhance the government’s legitimacy. This, in turn, has allowed criminals to take advantage of the vacuum of authority and governance.

Joint Publication 3-24 notes that “the [host nation] government generally needs some level of legitimacy among the population to retain the confidence of the populace and an acknowledgment of governing power.” The Mexican government has not been able to build legitimacy in the eyes of the population, which has very little confidence in central authorities’ ability to govern. Until Mexico City can begin to make progress on the ground in governing, battling corruption, ending impunity and winning the trust and confidence of the local population, cartels will continue to thrive — no matter how many criminal leaders the military kills or how many new security institutions the state drafts into the fight.