TIME Military

Iraq Reinforcements: Return of the ‘5 O’Clock Follies’?

A U.S. AH-64 Apache helicopter fires a missile during a live fire gunnery exercise with the South Korean army at the U.S. army's Rodriguez range in Pocheon
AH-64 Apache helicopters like this one arrived in Baghdad on Sunday. Jo Yong hak / Reuters

Evolving U.S. troop numbers raise questions about "mission creep"

Was it fair to tweet the Pentagon announcement late Monday afternoon that 200 more U.S. troops are headed for Iraq — bringing the total there about 750 — as the “5:34 O’Clock Follies”?

That’s a reference to the infamous “5 O’Clock Follies” conducted by the U.S. military in Ho Chi Minh City’s Rex Hotel during the Vietnam War. It was where the Pentagon’s local spokesmen offered up enemy body counts and other data suggesting that the U.S. was winning the war in Southeast Asia. “Early in the US phase of the war, the principal daily US press briefing became known among US newsmen as the ‘5 O’Clock Follies,’” a 1979 Army study said. “Nothing the best of the public affairs officers could do could ‘sell’ what the majority of the press had decided was a bad or at least a suspect policy.”

The term has become shorthand for the messy business of trying to sell war: a natural desire to try to put the best gloss on imprecise numbers, impossible to nail down as the situation on the ground evolves. But the Pentagon can contribute to that narrative by appearing to play “catch up” with what’s happening on the ground. That’s always a problem when the enemy appears to be succeeding, especially after the Pentagon pulled all of its forces out in 2011 (there’s a fair amount of debate over whether a residual U.S. force could have been left behind if the U.S. had pressed harder … and if President Obama hadn’t been so eager to leave).

The phrase has been popping up since Obama’s June 19 announcement that he’d ordered up to 300 U.S. troops to Iraq to advise the military of U.S.-backed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki amid the pounding it was taking from the rebels of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

But there’s a lot more going on, as the Pentagon explained Tuesday:

  • An initial 270 U.S. troops were ordered to Iraq on June 16; 170 of them arrived in the country that day.
  • In a June 26 letter to Congress, the President ordered up to 300 advisers to Iraq; 180 were there within 24 hours, divided between those advising the Iraqis and those setting up a command post.
  • On Monday, the Pentagon ordered 200 more troops to Iraq, along with AH-64 Apache helicopters, primarily to defend U.S. personnel already there. All arrived in Iraq within a day.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. had 650 of a total of 770 newly authorized military personnel on Iraqi soil. There also are about 100 additional U.S. troops who were already in Iraq working on arms sales and military cooperation.

The dribbling out of deployments makes the situation on the ground appear grim. Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, declined to say on Tuesday if al-Maliki’s forces have gained the upper hand against ISIS.

He disputed any notion that the U.S. is getting sucked into an expanding role. “There’s no mission creep because the missions have been clearly defined from almost the outset,” he said. “The situation on the ground continues to change. It’s very fluid. It’s dynamic.”

But Kirby also declined to put a ceiling on the ultimate number of U.S. troops the expanding Iraq mission might require. Obama “said he was going to send up to 300 for an assess and advisory mission … and before that, it was up to 275 for static security assistance, and then he added another 200,” Kirby said. “Is there a grand total? No.”

The Commander in Chief, he said, “needs to have the freedom to make those decisions as he and the military commanders and the civilian leadership here in the Pentagon advise him to.”

TIME Turkey

Turkey’s Erdogan Plans to Go From Premiership to Presidency

Turkey's PM Erdogan greets AK Party members at a meeting where he is named as his party's candidate for the country's first direct presidential election in Ankara
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan greets Justice and Development Party members at a meeting, in which he is named as his party's candidate for the country's first direct presidential election, in Ankara on July 1, 2014 Umit Bektas—Reuters

The Turkish PM wants to transform the presidency from a largely ceremonial post into an executive seat of power, but some say he's overplaying his hand

It was fine pantomime, but it was also a sign of political things to come.

Back in May, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s famously irascible Prime Minister, lost his temper at an official function as a prominent lawyer berated his government. “This kind of rudeness is unimaginable,” he yelled. “You’re lying.” Turkey’s President, Abdullah Gul, tried to calm Erdogan but failed. The Prime Minister eventually made it known he was leaving the venue in protest. Then, in a gesture that seemed to be far less of an entreaty than a command, he motioned for the President to do likewise. Gul, obligingly, made his way toward the door.

On Tuesday, less than two months later, Erdogan confirmed what his body language had earlier suggested — that the key decisions about Turkey’s political future were his to make, that he would be the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) candidate in an Aug. 10 presidential election, and that Gul, his political ally, would head for the exit.

In an emotional speech at an AKP rally in Ankara in front of 4,000 party faithful, Erdogan pledged to transform the office to which he aspires from a largely ceremonial post into the main node of executive power. “This is no simple technical change,” he said, referring to a constitutional amendment that will see Turkey’s President elected by popular vote for the first time. “A President elected by the people and not by Parliament … is a turning point for democracy,” he said. “A popular election will invest the presidency with strong legitimacy and real meaning.”

To most Turks, Erdogan’s decision to enter the race did not come as a surprise. Earlier this year, the AKP decided to cap at three the number of terms that its members can serve in parliament, a rule that would have prevented Erdogan from returning as Prime Minister. Gul, meanwhile, confirmed that he would not run for re-election over the weekend.

Over the past year, Erdogan has had to contend with a series of antigovernment protests, a major corruption scandal, fallout from the deadliest industrial disaster in Turkish history and, most recently, a hostage crisis in Iraq. He appears to have weathered it all. Most opinion polls now give him over 50% of the vote, enough to defeat his main challenger, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, a former head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, in the first round.

Ihsanoglu has practically “no chance” of stopping Erdogan’s march toward the presidency, says Turkish columnist Kadri Gursel, as the candidate of an opposition that is “incapable of managing political processes, perceptions and political communication.” The two main opposition parties waited until mid-June to unveil the septuagenarian Ihsanoglu as their joint candidate, ensuring that he would remain an unfamiliar, untested product by the time Turks went to the polls. Days later, several members of the secularist opposition made it clear Ihsanoglu was far from their preferred nominee.

Tuesday’s announcement may have put an end to the speculation about Erdogan’s political future, but it has left a number of other questions unanswered. Turks still have no clue as to who will replace Erdogan as Prime Minister should he win, and whether he intends to stay on in his current job should he lose.

But if Erdogan does win the presidency, says Gursel, it will only strengthen his iron grip over Turkish politics and his party. “It will be the continuation of his premiership,” he says, “and even in a more powerful manner”

“Erdogan will dictate the main lines of policy that should be followed and the [new] Prime Minister will apply them,” he says. “This will be one-man rule.”

Others think that Erdogan risks overplaying his hand. “He thinks he’ll get the majority in the 2015 parliamentary election, change the constitution and [implement] a presidential system, but I think it’s going to be difficult,” says Cenk Sidar, managing director of consultancy firm Sidar Global Advisors, based in Washington, D.C. In the end, “he may get stuck as regular President, a figurehead,” he says.

Erdogan himself appears confident he will remain Turkey’s de facto leader for the foreseeable future, constitutional changes or not. Across the country, his face beams from billboards proclaiming “Target 2023,” the year when Turks will celebrate the centenary of their republic. Erdogan plans to be master of ceremonies. Should he win the presidency, then repeat in 2019, he will get his wish.

“Today,” he said on Tuesday, announcing his bid for the presidency, “we are getting ready for a beautiful journey.”

TIME China

WATCH: Large Crowds Rally in Hong Kong for Democracy

Marchers endured baking heat and heavy rain to demand more democratic rights

Clarification added, July 2, 2014:

Almost 100,000 pro-democracy protesters marched through Hong Kong on Tuesday during an annual rally to mark the anniversary of the territory’s return to China in 1997.

Mass demonstrations have taken place annually on July 1 in Hong Kong for more than a decade. But this year the territory’s discontent has shifted significantly against mainland China — and stems from many residents’ fears that Beijing is curtailing Hong Kong’s autonomy.

“I think Beijing is trying to tighten the controls of democracy in Hong Kong. But I think it’s a type of war game,” said Gary Sik, a financial consultant from Hong Kong who took part in the demonstration.

The protest comes after an estimated 800,000 votes were cast in an unofficial referendum on how the territory’s top leader, the chief executive, should be elected. Citizens in Hong Kong are not allowed to nominate candidates for the position; candidates are chosen by an electoral college that is largely seen as sympathetic to Beijing.

And public nomination rights are what protesters like Janice Yeung, a 27-year-old secretary from Hong Kong, are pushing for.

“Just like other countries, Hong Kong is a developed city — an international city. So I think Hong Kong should decide our future by [ourselves] — and not by Beijing or any other people,” she said.

Clarification: Hong Kong police estimated the number of protesters at 100,000, while the protesters put it at several times that figure.

TIME World Cup

Epic Photos From the USA vs. Belgium World Cup Match

The United States and Belgium are facing off Tuesday afternoon in the 16th round of the World Cup. These pictures take you inside the action

TIME Israel

Netanyahu Weighs Options for Avenging Deaths of Kidnapped Teens

Israeli Premier could go after the Hamas leadership, but analysts advocate targeting Gaza's missile stores

As Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu weighs the options for responding to the murders of three kidnapped Israeli teenagers, there is no shortage of advice—especially after the release, on the day the boys were buried together, of the recording of a call one made to police shortly after they were captured. The tape has only further agitated a grief-stricken Israeli public, increasing pressure on Netanyahu to act.

One option would be for Netanyahu to quietly order the assassination of a leader of Hamas, the militant Palestinian group Israel says carried out the abduction and murders. Israel has carried out such “targeted killings” of Hamas leaders in the past to retaliate against high-profile attacks on civilians. Exhibit A would be Ismail Abu Shanab, the prominent Hamas figure killed in 2003 by a missile fired from a helicopter hovering over the Gaza Strip, two days after a double-suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus killed 23.

But Netanyahu might exercise restraint. In 1997, during his first term as prime minister, he approved a Mossad operation aimed at killing the Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal on an Amman street, in retaliation for a wave of suicide bombings inside Israel. The plan went awry: The Mossad agents were caught by Jordanian police, and their attempt to poison Meshaal by smearing a poison on his skin left him in a coma. To get the agents back, Netanyahu had to release not only the antidote for the poison used in the botched attempt, but also the jailed spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (killed in 2004 by an Israeli missile).

“You start these things, you never know where you’re going to end,” said Gabriel Ben-Dor, director of the National Security Studies Center at Haifa University. “The Israeli theory is Hamas does not care about its own people in Gaza being hurt, but they care about themselves. So Israel has been going after their [physical] person at times…But this is a dangerous game to play. The answer could be: You are killing our people, we will kill yours. That’s a dangerous policy to renew.”

And Netanyahu has shown no great appetite of late for such aggressive action. “Netanyahu, despite his fiery rhetoric, is a very cautious man, even a hesitant one. He’s been very very reluctant to expand the sphere of operations beyond what’s absolutely necessary. Which is good from the Israeli point of view…he’s a force for restraint,” says Ben-Dor.

Yet having declared that “Hamas will pay” for the teenagers’ deaths, the premier appears obligated to act. The 34 airstrikes Israeli warplanes delivered on Gaza targets on Monday night were not insignificant, but might be only the overture. Right-wing members of his coalition are pressing for a major assault on Gaza, even including ground troops, according to Hebrew news accounts. “The countdown toward a strike on Gaza basically began two days after the teenagers were kidnapped,’’ military correspondent Alex Fishman writes in the leading daily Yedioth Ahronoth.

The problem is that striking Hamas leaders inside Gaza is likely to lead to an answering salvo from Hamas, which has scores of missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv and beyond. That reality prompts a growing number of analysts, including Ben-Dor, to advocate targeting the missiles themselves: a multi-day air campaign aimed at destroying existing missile stores, launchers, and the factories where the rockets are made. The time is right, they note, because Egypt has finally cut off smuggling lines from the Sinai by which Iran was able to re-supply Hamas in the past.

“The grim ending of the kidnapping, when coupled with Hamas’s dire situation, create an opportunity for an operation that will achieve a strategic outcome that will endure for a long time,” retired Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland argues in a Yedioth opinion column. “It would be best not to squander that on a purely punitive and retaliatory operation.”

But others warn that any strike on Palestinian territory will hurt not only Hamas, but also Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate President of the Palestinian Authority. Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, both condemned the kidnapping and aided Israel’s investigation, at some cost to his public standing.

“It is in the State of Israel’s interest now to distinguish between Abu Mazen and Hamas,” says columnist Nahum Barnea, also in Yedioth. But Netanyahu has rarely taken into account the Palestinian leader’s political fortunes in the past. In fact, in the wake of the teenagers’ deaths, Abbas has even less room to maneuver than Netanyahu.

“There is criticism against him because he collaborated or cooperated with Israel and because he condemned the terror attack,” notes Kobi Michael, former head of the Palestinian desk at Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs. “He is criticized by both sides. He is trapped in a very tragic stalemate.”

Aaron J. Klein reported from Tel Aviv

TIME energy

Oil Prices Soar as Iraq Tumbles Into Chaos

The harrowing situation in Iraq meant gains for some U.S. investors in the energy market

As the conflict in Iraq escalates, oil prices are skyrocketing — the benchmark price of Brent Crude oil stood at more than $115 a barrel Wednesday, approaching a nine-month high according to Bloomberg. And some investors are maximizing on short-term business opportunities couched within the rising costs.

Stocks at Chevron, BP and ExxonMobil have reached record highs, in part because higher energy prices translate to larger revenue for producers, and because growing tensions abroad have made U.S.-based production companies more appealing, CNN reports.

So for anyone invested in those oil companies, the turmoil in the Middle East could mean financial success. However, energy experts warn that investors should keep an eye on the potential boomerang effect that often occurs after an energy scare.

TIME Israel

Israel Mourns 3 Teenagers Found Dead in West Bank

Israeli leaders have accused the militant group Hamas of their murders

Israel held funeral services Tuesday for three teenagers found dead in the West Bank on Monday. Tens of thousands came together to mourn the boys, who were the focus of a two-week search.

Israeli leaders have accused Hamas of abducting and killing the three teenagers, Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship.

Blue-and-white Israeli flags covered each of the young men’s bodies. “We are burying a child today, a child who could have been the child of any one of us,” said Yair Lapid, the Israeli Minister of Finance. “Therefore he is indeed the child of each and every one of us.”

 

TIME Terrorism

Support for Suicide Bombings Plummets In Countries Where They Happen Most

LEBANON-UNREST-BLAST-HEZBOLLAH
Mourners attend the funeral of Abdel Karim Hodroj, a 20-year-old Lebanese General Security agency inspector who was killed the previous day in an overnight suicide blast, on June 25, 2014, in Beirut.. ANWAR AMRO—AFP/Getty Images

A Pew opinion poll finds that with a few exceptions, the more people see suicide bombings, the less they like them

Support for suicide bombers in the name of Islam has dropped in countries that have endured the most suicide bombings, a recent Pew survey reports.

When asked if suicide bombings can ever be justified against civilian targets “to defend Islam from its enemies,” a growing majority responded with “rarely” or “not at all.” Even in what has historically been the strongest bastion of support for these terror tactics, the Palestinian Territories, the percentage that replied “often/sometimes” tumbled to 46% in 2014, down from a high of 70% seven years ago. Pew noted that favorable views of Hamas had also significantly declined.

In Jordan, support fell from a high of 57% in 2005, the same year a series of bomb blasts ripped through three hotels in the nation’s capital Amman, to just 15% in 2014. In Pakistan–which has been ranked the third-most “bomb-scarred” country in the world by the UK-based NGO Action on Armed Violence — support fell this year to 3%, down from a high of 41% in 2004.

There were notable exceptions to the trend. Egypt, Turkey and Nigeria saw an uptick in people who said they believed that sometimes suicide bombings could be justified against civilian targets. Overall, though, the poll suggests that in the long-run, the more people experience the devastation of suicide bombs, the less they like them.

Levels of Support for Suicide Bombing over Time

TIME Japan

Japan Ends Ban on Military Self-Defense

JAPAN-DEFENCE-SECURITY-POLITICS
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo on July 1, 2014. Kazuhiro Nogi—AFP/Getty Images

But the public worries that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is turning his back on the country's post-WWII pacifism

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a major revision to Japan’s pacifist postwar defense policy amid wide public protests Tuesday — but don’t expect to see Japanese troops sweeping across foreign battlefields anytime soon.

Under the new policy, Japan’s powerful but low-profile military would be allowed to defend friends and allies under attack for the first time, even overseas. It’s part of a new interpretation of Japan’s war-renouncing constitution that Abe has pushed since taking office 18 months ago.

But ending the ban on so-called collective self-defense comes amid widespread public opposition. Thousands of protesters ringed Abe’s office during his televised announcement. A middle-aged man in a business suit set himself afire in protest in downtown Tokyo on Sunday — a shocking event in normally docile Japan.

But in many ways, the new policy merely formalizes the linguist sleight-of-hand that has allowed an officially pacifist nation to maintain a military of 250,000 well-trained and well-equipped troops in the first place.

“This is not a game changer,” says Brad Glosserman, executive director of the Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu. “The Japanese have always been able to find a way to do whatever was needed to defend their interests and meet their obligations under the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. What this does is allow them to do things more openly.”

At issue is Article 9 of the constitution, written in the early days of the U.S. occupation of 1945–52. The article formally renounces Japan’s right to wage war or maintain a military:

Article 9

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of forces as a means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

Various interpretations over the years have allowed Japan to develop robust air, land and sea forces and maintain the right to defend itself against attack, should that ever be necessary (so far, it hasn’t). Until now, however, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces have operated on the premise that they could not come to the aid of friendly countries — like the U.S., for example — unless the Japanese were directly attacked as well.

Abe says that has to change. North Korea’s development of nuclear warheads and long-range missiles, and China’s growing defense spending and military assertiveness, means that no country in the region can defend itself on its own, according to Abe. If Japan wants to count on its friends, its friends must be able to count on Japan too.

“The most important thing is that this makes it possible for us to work more closely with countries in the region to maintain the balance of power and deterrence vis-à-vis China. Unless Japan can exercise the right of collective self-defense, we can’t even participate in joint training exercises, even in peacetime,” says Narushige Michishita, director of the Security and International Studies Program at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.

Abe has been pushing an aggressive defense agenda even as he’s struggled to right Japan’s ailing economy. He has organized a new National Security Council, rammed through a tough new state-secrets law and ordered a small but important increase in defense spending.

But ending the ban on collective self-defense has been a hard sell, even to Abe’s own ruling block. Resistance from within his coalition forced a milder version of the policy than recommended by a handpicked advisory committee earlier this year. Abe has attempted to placate concerns by vowing Japan would never abandon its pacifist ideals. Under no circumstances, he said Tuesday, would Japanese troops be sent to fight in wars like those in Iraq or Afghanistan, even if the new policy permits.

“We shall never repeat the horror of war. With this reflection in mind, Japan has gone on for 70 years after the war. It will never happen that Japan again becomes a country which goes to war,” Abe said.

The public may need more convincing. In a Kyodo News poll over the weekend, 55.4% of respondents expressed opposition to Abe’s plan, up from 48.1% just a month ago. Thousands of well-dressed, mostly middle-class citizens protested overnight Monday and Tuesday in front of Abe’s official residence at the perceived shift from Japan’s pacifist post-WWII constitution. “The current constitution is the result of the sacrifice of more than three million Japanese and more than 20 million Asian victims of war,” Yoshihiko Murata, a 74-year-old protester, told the Guardian. “We should value it more.”

On Sunday, a man spoke calmly for 30 minutes against the new policy from a pedestrian bridge near the busy Shinjuku train station, then doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire. The man survived, though his current condition is not known. Although the incident was largely ignored by Japan’s mainstream news media, the incident lit up the country’s busy social media and scores of videos were posted on YouTube and other sites, garnering more than a million views.

The U.S. welcomes the new policy, as have leaders in Australia and the Philippines. The reaction in China and South Korea, which suffered mightily during Japan’s era of wartime and colonial expansion, has been less sanguine, of course. Michishita says the new policy is unlikely to make much practical difference. Japan has not had to invoke its right of individual self-defense since the end of World War II. If deterrence works, the same should hold for collective self-defense.

“People might expect us to do more now that we have the right to exercise collective self-defense, but we might end up doing not much more, and that might actually undermine the confidence of people in the region in Japan,” he says. “They could end up saying, ‘Well, after all this fuss, Japan is not going to do anything significantly different.’”

TIME World Cup

Everything You Need to Know About the USA-Belgium World Cup Match

The United States Men’s National Team will play Belgium in round 16 of the World Cup Tuesday afternoon. It’s a pretty big deal, and people are appropriately excited. (See official pump up video for the game above in case you need help on that front).

Considering a lot of newbies will be tuning in, here’s a guide to everything you need to know about the big game:

What time is it? USA and Belgium will start at 4 p.m. EST

How long does it last? Games are 90 minutes long, with a halftime that must not exceed 15 minutes. There’s also some extra time added to each 45-minute half to account for various stoppages, like injuries. If the game’s tied after 90 minutes plus stoppage time, USA and Belgium will play for another 30 minutes, divided into two 15-minute halves (plus yet even more stoppage time!).

If the teams are still tied after that, the game gets decided on penalty kicks, as the Brazil-Chile match was.

How does a team win? Scoring in tournament soccer can be confusing. Some were confused that the United States won and moved on to the 16th round after a 0-1 loss to Germany, for example. But this round of the World Cup is simpler: The team with the most points at the end of the game wins and moves on to play the winner of today’s Argentina-Switzerland match. The losing side goes home empty-handed.

How do I watch? Viewers can tune in on ESPN and Univision. If you’re stuck TV-less at the office, there are livestream options at ESPN.com for people who have cable log-in information. You can also follow ESPN’s Gamecast (a live blog with updated illustrations) or ESPN Radio’s broadcast. Univision will provide free streaming video in Spanish.

How do the teams rank? FIFA ranked Belgium eleventh and USA thirteenth in the world. Renowned data journalist Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com ranks Belgium ninth and USA eighteenth.

Who is favored to win? Belgium. But according to the Los Angeles Times, that might not be a bad thing for the U.S. since “this World Cup hasn’t been kind to favorites.” Example: Spain was the world’s top ranked team and went home during the group portion of the tournament. (And then the team’s flight home was struck by lightning).

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