TIME Asia

North Korean and South Korean Ships Exchange Fire in Yellow Sea

South Korean navy warships patrol around Daecheong island near the West Sea border with North Korea, Tuesday, April 1, 2014. Hong Hae-in—Yonhap/AP

A North Korean vessel starts shelling two days after the South fired warning shots at ships crossing the maritime border. Residents on Yeonpyeong island, where four people were killed in 2010, were evacuated to bomb shelters

A North Korean navy ship fired two artillery shells in the vicinity of a South Korean warship in the disputed waters near Yeonpyeong island on Thursday, and the South Korean vessel fired several rounds back in response, the South Korean Defense Ministry said.

The North Korean shells landed about 200 meters from the South Korean ship, which was on a regular patrol mission according to the ministry.

The incident took place two days after South Korea fired warning shots at three North Korean ships that crossed the maritime border between the two countries in the Yellow Sea border. Pyongyang condemned the act as “gravely provocative” and said it would retaliate.

Residents on Yeonpyeong, where North Korean shelling killed four people in 2010, were reportedly evacuated to bomb shelters as the naval exchange broke out.

The rhetoric between the two countries has been intensifying, with Pyongyang dishing out an increasing number of insults at Seoul, and a spokesperson from South Korea’s defense ministry saying that the North was not a real country and “must disappear soon.”

Both sides regularly conduct artillery drills in the disputed waters, which lack a clearly marked sea boundary. Over the past two months, hundreds of shells have been fired, causing island residents to evacuate on a number of occasions.

TIME Thailand

Foreign Mediation Would Stop Thailand’s Vicious Cycle of Coups

Thailand Coup D'etat As Military Seize Control
Thai soldiers move foreign press on as they secure the grounds of the venue for peace talks between pro- and antigovernment groups as the army announces it is seizing power in Bangkok on May 22, 2014 Rufus Cox—Getty Images

Devolving power to the regions would help end the “winner takes all” element of Thai elections and prevent yet another coup. The U.S., and Thailand's other allies, should insist upon it

Thais are all too familiar with military coups — soldiers in the street barely merit a glance. But when 7-Elevens are forced to close, the very of fabric of society seems poised to crumble. Not even during the last putsch in 2006 were these cherished convenience stores shuttered. They are now.

Thursday’s seizing of power by the military brings to an end eight years of fraught, though sustained, democracy. The constitution has been suspended (apart from those sections regarding the revered monarchy), a nationwide curfew imposed and a ban put on gatherings of more than five people.

Television stations, including international outlets like CNN, have been taken off air and strict censorship imposed on print and online media. On Friday, schoolchildren across the nation were given the day off, although the malls, markets and temples that draw 20 million tourists each year stayed open. More than a dozen leading government and opposition figures have been detained, and 155 politicians and activists banned from leaving the country.

But why is Thailand caught in this vicious cycle? Thursday marked its 19th successful or attempted coup since rule by absolute monarchy ceased in 1932, underscoring the fact that free and fair elections are futile without strong institutions to back them up. The nepotism charges that led to the ouster of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra were laughable, but they showed that, in Thailand, five judges wield more power than the 15 million citizens who voted for Yingluck in her 2011 landslide win.

The spell of unrest that preceded the coup was sparked by opposition to an amnesty bill that would have allowed Yingluck’s brother, divisive former Prime Minister Thaskin Shinawatra, home from exile with corruption charges quashed. Yellow Shirts didn’t want their nemesis back in the country, and Red Shirts were not willing to pay the price this entailed — namely, that those responsible for a crackdown on Red Shirt protesters in 2006 that claimed more than 90 lives would also be pardoned.

Tens of thousands took to the street, and the bill was shelved. But it wasn’t enough. To the Yellow Shirts, Yingluck was overstepping her mandate in attempting to bring home her billionaire sibling. What followed was six months of besieged government offices, harangued civil servants and street clashes to demand her removal. These were illegal attempts by a minority to oust a majority government. To reassert her mandate, Yingluck called snap elections for Feb. 2, but the protesters scuttled the ballot process. This is a form of fascism at work.

The pall of royal succession dominates the crisis. King Bhumibol Adulyadej is beloved, but his playboy son Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn is generally unpopular and spends his time carousing around Germany. Vajiralongkorn has well known ties to the Shinawatra clan, and much of the public rancor was about jockeying for advantage before the ailing 86-year-old monarch passes on the crown. For royalists, that advantage means the permanent banishment of Thaksin, which may now happen following the coup.

What can be done? Thailand last year welcomed 26.7 million tourists, including more than 800,000 Americans, accounting for 10% of GDP. Thai tourism — for better or worse — is founded on the GIs who first flocked there for R&R during the Vietnam War. Bangkok boasts one the the largest U.S. embassies in the world.

Yet the fundamentals of this situation must be changed. Washington is already “reviewing our military and other assistance and engagements, consistent with U.S. law,” according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. But “trying to find some sort of compromise is going to be difficult as the stakes are as high as ever,” Tim Huxley, executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies–Asia, tells TIME.

Reducing these stakes is key to any resolution. The U.S. should insist upon elections at the earliest opportunity and help mediate reforms to devolve power to the regions, thus ending the “winner takes all” element to Thai elections. A semiautonomous Bangkok government chosen by Bangkok voters would take the sting out of the pro-Thaksin national government that new polls are almost certain to return. (All five elections since 2001 have been won by such parties.)

Army chief general Prayuth Chan-ocha may have a gruff exterior but is a very savvy man. He has stayed out of politics his entire career, and so to stage a coup now he must believe — rightly or wrongly — that it was absolutely necessary. But significantly, the current constitution was drafted by a military cabal following the 2006 putsch. The generals have now just torn up the system that they themselves imposed. If left unaided, what hope do they have of getting it right this time?

Foreign assistance is desperately needed to find a way through this crisis. And to resuscitate those most potent indicators of the health of Thailand’s social fabric, the 7-Elevens.

TIME Thailand

The Thai Coup Isn’t Likely to Ruin Your Vacation (Just the Economy)

Martial Law Imposed Across Thailand As Political Conflict Continues
A foreign tourist sits in a Thai army vehicle as soldiers deploy on a downtown street after martial law was declared on May 20, 2014 in Bangkok. Rufus Cox—Getty Images

Soldiers armed with automatic weapons are in the streets, a nationwide curfew installed and news broadcasts censored, so is Thailand still safe for the millions of tourists planning to visit?

The scenes were all too familiar in the world’s most coup-prone country on Thursday. Military vehicles fanned out across Bangkok, as generals spoke forcefully on national broadcasts about the need for order after months of political unrest. But like the majority of the 11 other coups in Thailand’s modern era, Thursday’s affair remained bloodless.

For tourists hoping to lap up the country’s renowned cuisine and relax at its idyllic beaches during the upcoming months, travel experts say it’s unlikely they’ll be directly affected by the country’s latest putsch. However, the industry on the whole might not be so lucky.

As of Friday morning, airports remained opened and life in Bangkok kicked off to its perennial chaotic start.

“It’s business as usual,” Suparerk Soorangura, of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, tells TIME. “Coups usually come in a peaceful way and don’t have much of an effect on the normal way of life.”

The largest hindrance to both Thais and foreigners remains a nationwide curfew, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., implemented by the country’s new military rulers yesterday evening. However, authorities have granted special dispensation to those traveling to and from the nation’s airports during that time.

“[The] curfew is nationwide, but in some of the more remote areas of Thailand, and on the beaches, it hasn’t been very strict,” says Richard Barrow, a popular travel blogger in the country, via email. “[It] may last less than a week if there isn’t any unrest.”

Following the announcement of the coup, the U.S. embassy in Bangkok issued a statement advising American citizens to “avoid areas where there are protest events, large gatherings, or security operations and follow the instructions of Thai authorities.” But officials stopped short of calling on Americans to exit the country.

“We’re not, at this time, advising American citizens to depart,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters during a press conference in Washington on Thursday.

During a televised address to the nation on Thursday, the general at the helm of the country’s newly formed military junta promised to keep foreigners in Thailand safe.

“For the ambassadors, consulate and international organizations, including foreigners living in the Kingdom of Thailand, the peace-maintaining committee will protect you,” said ruling General Prayuth Chan-ocha, according to the New York Times.

Unless the Red Shirts strike back at the junta — and that remains a distinct possibility — Thailand could even be safer now than it was in the past six months of mass protests by pro- and antigovernment demonstrators in the capital, during which 28 people were killed and more than 700 injured. The protest sites have been cleared and thousands of demonstrators sent home — for now at least.

“At the moment, everything is open as normal,” says Barrow. “With the protesters off the streets of Bangkok, the city is actually safer than it was before.”

Regardless of the realities on the ground, Thailand’s latest spell of military rule will likely put an increasingly large dent in one of the economy’s most important engines.

The kingdom’s tourism sector last year raked in an estimated $35 billion — accounting for approximately 9% of economic output. But in 2014, an estimated 400,000 fewer people traveled to Thailand during the first four months of the year.

Earlier this month, the Tourism Council of Thailand cut its foreign-tourist arrivals target for 2014 to 26.3 million from 28 million — the lowest such figure in half a decade, according to Reuters.

On Monday, the country’s National Economic and Social Development Board reported that the Thai economy contracted by 2.1% during the first quarter, when compared with the previous three months.

So while there’s still plenty to grin about in the Land of Smiles, there are more reasons to frown as well.

TIME society

In Germany, You Can No Longer Keep Nude Photos of Your Ex

When you split with your partner, you have the right to demand that all intimate images they have of you be deleted, a German court ruled this week. The court found that one person's right of privacy was more important than another person's ownership rights to intimate photos taken during the relationship

Ex-partners must delete all intimate or nude photos if one of the partners asks for it, a German court ruled Tuesday.

The case had been brought by a woman in central Germany who demanded that her partner, a photographer, delete all intimate photos of her after the couple split.

During the course of the relationship, the photographer had made several erotic videos and taken many naked pics of the woman with her consent.

A higher court in Koblenz decided that she had the right to demand the material be deleted, because her personal rights were more important than his ownership rights to the material, theLocal reported.

However, the court rejected the woman’s demand that her ex delete all photos taken of her, as it said that clothed pics had “little, if any capacity” to compromise her privacy.

[The Local]

TIME Kim Jong Un

Eerily Similar Pictures of Kim Jong Un and Hitler With Adoring Fans

(Left) North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a mushroom farm in an undated photo released in July 2013 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA); (right) Adolf Hitler surrounded by adoring Austrian women and girls, 1939. Reuters—KCNA; Hugo Jaeger—The LIFE Picture Collection

When it comes to inspiring equal measures of fear and devotion in his followers, North Korea's 'Great Successor' looks to be more than a match for the Führer

When a number of photographs recently surfaced featuring North Korea’s Kim Jong Un surrounded by weeping, seemingly ecstatic women, we were struck by how weirdly similar those pictures seemed, in almost every respect, to photos made 75 years ago of another monomaniacal despot: Adolf Hitler. The picture of Hitler above was made in Austria in 1939 by the Nazi leader’s personal photographer, Hugo Jaeger, and while it lacks some of the unsettlingly crazed and, at times, comical energy of the Kim photos, both of the pictures capture an expression on the women’s faces that borders — or appears to border — on worshipful.

Of course, there’s always a possibility that the displays of weepy adoration that erupt wherever Kim goes might be sparked by base, primal fear; no one wants to be sent off to an inhuman “re-education” camp simply for not evincing the proper reverence for the ruler of what is arguably the world’s most surreal state.

Whether Kim Jong Un is, as so many now assert, a despot on par with the 20th century’s most infamous tyrant is a question that history’s victors will ultimately decide. But when it comes to inspiring what appears to be equal measures of intense fear and profound devotion in his followers, these pictures — made three-quarters of a century apart — suggest that North Korea’s “Great Successor” is more than a match for the Führer.

TIME Thailand

Thailand’s Army Tightens Its Grip on Power

THAILAND-POLITICS-PROTEST-MILITARY
Members of the Thai security forces stand guard outside the Army auditorium in Bangkok where prominent figures including former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra are reporting to the junta on May 23, 2014. CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT—AFP/Getty Images

A day after the army takes control, coup leader General Prayuth proclaims himself acting Prime Minister and scores of politicians and activists are barred from leaving the country, while users of social media are warned not to post any material critical of the coup. Some commentators fear a dramatic upsurge in violence if Red Shirts decide to strike back at the military's intervention

Thais awoke this morning to their first full day of military rule, with top political leaders detained and television stations taken off air following a coup yesterday led by the powerful army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

More politicians are expected to report to the army headquarters in Bangkok today, with the recently deposed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra having already turned herself in, according to the BBC. They face possible arrest, while scores of politicians and activists have been banned from leaving the country. Commentators questioned the grounds for the coup in light of the fact that the ongoing political turmoil had been limited mainly to Bangkok. The U.S., a strong ally of Thailand, sharply criticized the army’s intervention, with Secretary of State John Kerry asserting that “there is no justification for this military coup.”

In downtown Bangkok yesterday evening, streets that would normally hum with activity late into the night began to empty as the 10 p.m. curfew approached. Television screens in restaurants and cafés across the country carried the emblem of the newly formed National Peace and Order Maintaining Council, headed by Prayuth, who has proclaimed himself acting Prime Minister. Patriotic songs played on a loop, breaking only for the army’s spokesperson to announce updates to the rules now governing the kingdom.

Among those was a warning that social-media users who criticized the coup could face prosecution, with hugely popular platforms like Facebook and Twitter threatened with closure in the event that they failed to deliver “accurate news to the people.” Thai-British academic and activist Giles Ji Unpakorn wrote on his Facebook page that the last time a crackdown on the flow of information occurred on this scale was when “the army raided bookshops and libraries in Thailand … on Oct. 6, 1976,” the date of the infamous massacre of student protesters by the army at Thammasat University, during a prior phase of military rule.

Critics of the coup have been placed in the crosshairs of the new rulers. Verapat Pariyawong, an expert on Thailand’s legal system, said he knew of people who had received “serious threats to their security,” but did not want to go public with them “in order to contain the fear to themselves — that is, they don’t want the public to also fear speaking out.” Verapat warned that an upsurge in attacks would likely follow. “[A coup] will always produce very detrimental effects because it deepens the conflict,” he said. Referring to a 2010 crackdown on a Red Shirt demonstration in central Bangkok in which 90 people died and 2,000 were injured, he added: “The situation is now worse than it was in 2010, because the preparedness of the Red Shirts to avenge the deaths of 2010 makes it much more uncertain what will happen next.”

Exactly how the course of events went in the lead up to the coup announcement yesterday remains unclear. Leaders from both the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) — whose Yellow Shirt supporters had spent six months agitating for the removal of the Pheu Thai government — and the progovernment Red Shirts were summoned by Prayuth for a second day of negotiations at the Army Club in Bangkok. Shortly after, 14 people, including PDRC leader Suthep Thaungsuban, and Red Shirt leader Jutaporn Prompan, were detained and taken to a barracks next door. Television channels were seized, and Prayuth, flanked by senior military officials and the police chief — the new faces of power in Thailand — announced that the country had come under the control of the army. Troops guarding the entrance to the Army Club blocked journalists from entering, but at 6 p.m., TIME witnessed a convoy of army trucks packed with soldiers, and led by a machine-gun-mounted Humvee, entering the base via a side gate.

The economy, which has already slowed to a 2.8% growth following months of street protests, is expected to take a heavy knock. The tourism sector, which accounts for 10% of GDP, already lost nearly 400,000 arrivals in the first quarter of the year. Shovon Kibria, a Bangladeshi-American tourist, said his Bangkok-bound plane was forced to sit on the tarmac at Chittagong airport in Bangladesh for an hour yesterday, with the pilot announcing that martial law, imposed on Tuesday and considered a precursor to yesterday’s coup, had affected landing clearances at Suvarnabhumi Airport.

“I was aware of martial law being imposed but didn’t think that would affect me in any way, but hearing about the curfew completely changed our plans,” he said, adding that he and friends decided not to venture far from their hotel yesterday evening following the order to close all public transport in the country by 9 p.m.

Supporters of the PDRC, who have camped out in Bangkok since November last year cheered at the announcement yesterday, with many claiming a victory in the battle to topple the Pheu Thai government and rid Thailand of the rule of Thaksin Shinawatra, the exiled former Prime Minister who is considered chief controller of the Pheu Thai party and whose sister Yingluck is regarded as a proxy.

“They [the PDRC] know that the military is sympathetic to their cause — the movement against corruption and abuse of power by Thaksin,” said Kraisak Choonhavan, a former Democrat Party Senator who regularly took to the stage at PDRC rally sites.

Antipathy toward Thaksin is vitriolic among upper-middle-class Thais, yet he commands an overwhelming majority of support in the country. The opposition knows that elections scheduled for July would see his party claim a sweeping victory, so they have looked to the courts and Senate, traditionally seen as biased in favor of the Democrat Party, to topple the government.

“The PDRC probably think military rule is better than the barbaric capitalism under Thaksin,” Kraisak said. “The ideological ones among you will probably ask what the future of democracy in Thailand is under the military. But all the small details of Thaksin’s rule — the extra-judicial killings, the rice scheme — came under democracy. How does democracy produce such monsters?”

It is increasingly in Thailand’s legal system — the so-called juristocracy — that the machinations of politics plays out. The Constitutional Court, whose verdict on May 7 saw Yingluck removed from office, has long been considered favorable to the Thai establishment. “The Senate, too, now has to be watched very closely,” said Verapat. “The fact that the coup instigators opted to only temporarily suspend the constitution and specifically provide that the Senate continues to function suggests that the coup instigators may find some use in the Senate.” This may occur through asking Senators to nominate or endorse a temporary government or reform council, he added.

The streets of Bangkok today appear normal, and restaurants dished out the usual lunchtime fare to those who made it to work. Come 10 p.m., when street vendors pack up early and the lights of the ubiquitous 7-Eleven stores go out across the nation, Thais will once again be reminded that below the surface calm lies an almost uniquely dysfunctional political system that has seen the army annul a constitution that it wrote itself, and the country stagger from one coup to another, punctuated by mass street violence and the rule of the men in green.

“The worst part of all this is that it produces a generational problem,” says Verapat. “Young Thais have been and will continue to be indoctrinated that force is above all else, and that there’s really no use playing by the rules. They will grow up accustomed to such a culture, they will run the country, and the vicious cycle never ends.”

TIME Thailand

Thailand Is Doing a Great Job of Screwing Up Its Potential

Thailand Politics
An antigovernment demonstrator cries before she leaves a protest site after soldiers staged a coup in Bangkok on Thursday, May 22, 2014. Sakchai Lalit—ASSOCIATED PRESS

And it's not alone. The coup in Thailand, and turmoil elsewhere, shows how developing nations are currently excelling at one thing: being their own worst enemies

For more than a half year now, Thailand has been gripped by chaos. Protesters from both sides of the political spectrum — the antigovernment Yellow Shirts and progovernment Red Shirts — have clogged the streets of Bangkok. The country’s highest court ousted the still widely popular Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra. And, on Thursday, the military took control of the government.

The past six months of factional violence have seen some 28 deaths and 700 injuries. But there have been even wider casualties of another sort. The turmoil is sapping the nation’s economic strength, and everyone is hurting.

Months of uncertainty and effectively no functioning government have taken a toll on Thailand’s economy. GDP in the first quarter contracted by 2.1%. Investment, consumption and government spending were all down. Some $15 billion of fresh investment projects are on hold. Foreign tourists, a key source of jobs and income for many Thais, are being scared off.

Without a return to political stability, the situation may not improve. Research firm Capital Economics slashed its GDP forecast for 2014 to a mere 1% this week. Though the military’s intervention could prevent further violence, the outlook for Thailand’s political situation remains anything but clear.

“The military’s seizure of power does nothing for Thailand’s reputation among global investors or, indeed, tourists,” lamented Mark Williams, Capital’s chief Asia economist.

Thailand is representative of an alarming trend: politics are undermining the economic prospects of some promising emerging nations. Only a couple of years ago, the developing world seemed set to swamp the developed one. While the U.S. and Europe suffered through the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis, emerging economies like China, India, Brazil and Indonesia surged from strength to strength. But not anymore. The performance of the emerging world has tapered off. The IMF recently downgraded its forecast for growth in developing economies to 4.9% in 2014.

There are many reasons behind the slowdown. After years of rapid expansion, some economies have developed serious flaws that are dragging them down. In China, for instance, a distorted financial sector, rising debt and excess capacity are all weighing on growth. But politics are making matters much worse. Vietnam’s government has been left pleading this week with foreign companies to maintain their operations in the country after many factories were damaged in anti-China riots, sparked by a territorial dispute in the South China Sea. Without such foreign investment, Hanoi will have a harder time creating jobs and raising incomes. Russia’s aggressive designs on Ukraine have forced the U.S. and Europe to slap sanctions on the country, threatening to scare off much-needed investment in an economy already struggling with feeble growth. In Egypt, constant political upheaval since the start of the Arab Spring in 2011 has undermined growth, gutted the important tourism sector and left the government dependent on foreign aid.

The causes of all this upheaval are many, and in some cases, quite honorable — such as the quest of Egyptians for their proper democratic rights. Yet ultimately the fallout is the same. Businessmen won’t invest in startups or factories that spur growth and create jobs without security, confidence and clear policy direction. A paralyzed government like Thailand’s can’t provide any of that, while the significant geopolitical risk created by a regime like Russia’s often convinces executives to place their capital elsewhere.

For the poor, this is bad news. There has always been a link between good governance and accelerated development in the emerging world. Periods of exceptionally high economic growth in less-developed nations are often associated with periods of political stability and sound macroeconomic management. Sadly, too often that stability has been enforced by coercion — as in China. As the 25th anniversary of the crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square approaches in June, Beijing’s leaders still believe economic reform can only be achieved under an unreformed political system. Yet democracies have proved that they, too, can deliver the economic goods. India, Indonesia and, increasingly, the Philippines have shown that when democratic leaders display political will, build consensus and implement smart policies, they can generate growth rates that match the best produced by the toughest dictatorships.

The point is that the governments that have successfully raised incomes tend to put economics ahead of politics. But both democrats and autocrats are guilty of doing the opposite these days. Putin clearly possesses the power to implement much-needed reforms, but he’s chosen to pursue the foreign adventures that could undermine the economy rather than the foreign investment that could bolster the nation’s growth. The sad story of India over the past three years has been a government led by economic reformers that got too caught up in coalition politics and too divided on the direction of policy to press ahead with key reforms.

This week brought some hope that at least some political gridlock can be broken. The landslide election in India of a coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party has raised expectations that incoming Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be able to press through badly needed liberalization and restart India’s economic miracle. But such hopes can be dashed in a flash. In Bangkok, there had been optimism that the military would broker a settlement between the opposing Yellow and Red Shirts — then the coup squashed that hope.

The danger to the developing world is that its leaders will continue to place their narrow interests over the greater goal of economic progress. Improving the welfare of the common man is hard enough. Politicians shouldn’t spend their time making it even harder.

TIME Foreign Policy

A General Writes the First After-Action Report on the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq: Why We Lost

Enduring Freedom
Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Bolger, left, briefs Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, on progress in Afghanistan in 2012. D. Myles Cullen

After 35 years in uniform, retired three-star says he will explain where U.S. war strategy failed

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ book sparked a firestorm upon its release in January, although you would never have predicted it by its humdrum title: Duty. But recently retired Army lieutenant general Daniel Bolger, who played key roles in Afghanistan and Iraq in his 35-year career, wasn’t coy when it came time to titling his upcoming book Why We Lost.

It’s a jaw-dropping phrase in a political-military world given to mealy-mouthed assessments of military progress in the two wars the U.S. has fought since 9/11. Its assertion calls into question the wars’ costs — 6,800 U.S. troops, untold enemy and civilian dead, and a $2 trillion, and rising, bill for U.S. taxpayers. Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is publishing the book Nov. 11. Its publication date is exactly two years after Bolger declared, during a Veterans Day ceremony in Afghanistan, that “our nations count on us, and we’ll deliver.”

Apparently not.

“By next Memorial Day, who’s going to say that we won these two wars?” Bolger said in an interview Thursday. “We committed ourselves to counterinsurgency without having a real discussion between the military and civilian leadership, and the American population —’Hey, are you good with this? Do you want to stay here for 30 or 40 years like the Korean peninsula, or are you going to run out of energy?’ It’s obvious: we ran out of energy.”

The military fumbled the ball by not making clear how long it would take to prevail in both nations. “Once you get past that initial knockout shot, and decide you’re going to stay awhile, you’d better define ‘a while,’ because in counter-insurgency you’re talking decades,” Bolger says. “Neither [the Bush nor the Obama] Administration was going to do that, yet I was in a military that was planning for deployments forever, basically. An all-volunteer force made it easy to commit the military to a long-term operation because they were volunteers.”

Bolger_WHYWELOST_cvr_lo-resThe nation and its military would have been far smarter to invade, topple the governments they didn’t like, and get out. “Both wars were won, and we didn’t know enough to go home” after about six months, Bolger argues. “It would have been messy and unpleasant, and our allies would have pissed and moaned, because limited wars by their nature have limited, unpalatable results. But what result would have been better — that, or this?”

The mindset persists. “The senior guys say, ‘Well, it’s not lost yet — we may still pull it out’,” Bolger said, as Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, returned from a NATO session in Brussels where Afghanistan was a topic. “I don’t give military advice to the Taliban,” Dempsey told Jim Garamone of the Pentagon’s American Forces Press Service. “But if I were giving them advice, I’d tell them their negotiating position is not going to improve, it’s going to erode.”

There was a belief in some quarters of the U.S. government that Washington and its allies were going to remake that troubled part of the world. “Don’t be so arrogant and think you’re going to reshape the Middle East,” Bolger says. “We’ve basically installed authoritarian dictators.” The U.S. wanted to keep about 10,000 troops in Iraq post-2011 (the two sides couldn’t agree on legal protections for U.S. troops, so none remain) and a similar sized force is being debated for Afghanistan once the U.S. combat role formally ends at the end of 2014. “You could have gone to that plan in 2002 in Afghanistan, and 2003 or ’04 in Iraq, and you wouldn’t have had an outcome much worse than what we’ve had,” Bolger says.

“They should have been limited incursions and [then] pull out — basically like Desert Storm,” he adds, referring to the 1991 Gulf War that forced Saddam Hussein’s forces out of neighboring Kuwait after an air campaign and 100-hour ground war. The U.S. wasn’t up to perpetual war, even post-9/11. “This enemy wasn’t amenable to the type of war we’re good at fighting, which is a Desert Storm or a Kosovo.”

Bolger — “rhymes with soldier,” he likes to say — is no disgruntled grunt. He retired from the Army last year after commanding the training of Iraqi forces in 2005-06, running the 1st Cavalry Division in Baghdad in 2009-10, and leading the training of Afghan forces in 2011-13. A graduate of the Citadel, he has a master’s and doctorate in history from the University of Chicago, and wrote frequently on military history while in uniform. He helped develop strategy in both campaigns and took time to pick up a rifle to accompany his troops in the field. “I am glad to see someone of his caliber tackling this subject,” military author Tom Ricks posted on his blog. In 2012, Defense News pegged Bolger at #40 in the list of the nation’s 100 most influential people in defense, two steps higher than “Former Sen. Chuck Hagel, Atlantic Council chairman.”

Bolger said his views on the wars grew more sour during his three tours. “My guilt is not having earlier figured out what was going wrong, and making a more forceful case and working with my peer generals to make a better military recommendation,” he says. “What eats at me the most is the 80 dead people I had in my command over my three tours, that eats at me a hell of a lot.”

What would he tell the families of the fallen? “I’d tell the families we need to unscrew ourselves and make sure we don’t do this again,” Bolger says. “What we didn’t do was use their precious service in the best way.” Their bravery and pluck won key victories, and he hopes his book will “make this sacrifice worth it.” Bolger also has a personal reason for writing: his son has served in Afghanistan and Iraq. “It is his own decision; he’s an adult,” his father says. The retired general is now teaching military history at North Carolina State University.

Bolger recently wondered when the U.S. military was going to conduct a formal and traditional After-Action Report (AAR) on its performance in the two wars. “Some say the Iraq surge of 2007 proved counterinsurgency tactics worked. Others point out that today’s Iraq is a sectarian mess, undermining that belief. As for the Afghan surge of 2010-11, well, who knows? We cannot even say, or will not even say, who won these campaigns. It sure does not seem to be us,” Bolger wrote in the February issue in Signals, the journal of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.

Such studies, long a part of military learning, have lessons for both the past and the future. “You might think such an assessment might be rather useful as we prepare to carve up and rearrange our armed forces to face today’s uncertain world. Facts offer a better starting point than hunches, emotions and ‘the way we’ve always done it.’ What did we learn from the current war? We owe it to the citizens we serve, and we certainly owe it to the men and women we have lost. We are past due for a long, hard look.”

Bolger repeated the question Thursday. “Where is the AAR?” he asked. Apparently, he got tired of waiting. “My book,” he says wistfully, “is going to be the first one.”

TIME russia

Brian Williams Snags First American Snowden Interview

Brian Williams and Edward Snowden NBC

NBC snags an interview with the man who leaked documents revealing the extent of NSA surveillance

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams ventured to Moscow this week for an exclusive interview with Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked classified documents about U.S. surveillance programs almost one year ago.

Snowden fled from Hawaii to Hong Kong and then later to Russia after releasing the documents. International governments and some in the American press criticized the American government for the surveillance programs revealed by Snowden’s leaks, eventually leading President Barack Obama to propose legislation that would put an end to the NSA’s bulk data collection.

NBC’s hour-long special featuring the interview with Snowden is set to air Wednesday, May 28 at 10 p.m. EST.

TIME Egypt

Egypt Veers Toward Return of Security State

EGYPT-TOURISM
An Egyptian man sits next to graffiti of Egypt's ex-army chief and leading presidential candidate Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on May 21, 2014. Khaled Desouki—AFP/Getty Images

As former Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi looks set to be voted president in next week's elections, Egyptians can't decide whether the military commander's rule will represent a return to law and order — or regression to a police state

From beyond its borders, Egypt seems poised to revert to form after next week’s presidential election a security state led, as it has been for the last half-century, by a military strongman in uniform or out. The headlines suggest little room for any other conclusion: Hundreds condemned to death after a one-hour trial; last year’s governing party declared a terrorist group; public protests outlawed; mass arrests, kangaroo courts.

Yet on the ground, no sense of crisis presents itself. The airport is no longer the loneliest place in town. There’s little or no overt security presence in the streets, save the armed camp around the U.S. embassy just off Tahrir Square. Cairo feels like itself. And the people who would be expected to complain about the state’s infringement on rights may or may not actually complain. It depends on who you’re talking to.

Some see the crackdown on dissent led by former Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whose election to the presidency is considered a foregone conclusion, as a throwback. “I think al-Sisi is trying to rebuild the wall of fear that we destroyed in the 11th of February revolution,” says Ahmad Abdallah, a leader of the April 6th Movement, the grassroots group most prominent in the build-up to the protests that overthrew Hosni Mubarak, who stepped down Feb. 11, 2011.

Abdallah predicts his movement will be declared a terrorist organization after Sisi becomes president. Some of April 6th’s leaders already are in jail, alongside respected journalists and at least 16,000 others arrested since July. Another 1,000 Egyptians have been killed by security forces.

“And this is just a prelude,” says Mohamed Lotfy, co-founder of the independent Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms. “If an interim government is capable of doing this, imagine what an elected government can do.”

Others, former revolutionaries among them, argue the draconian new rules are simply necessary given the domestic threat posed by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the insular Islamist group that controlled government until Sisi removed it last July after millions marched against its continued rule.

“The security part is the most crucial part,” says Ahmed Magdy, 26, who protested in Tahrir Square and worked for a moderate Islamist candidate, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, in the 2012 presidential elections. He sat with three artists in a hookah bar one night last week where activists gathered each night during the protests against Mubarak. Magdy declares Hamdeen Sabahi, the Tahrir activist running against Sisi, “too weak.” The artists, all 26, and each named Aya, nod their agreement.

“He built his campaign on being against the army, at a time when the army is all we have,” says Aya Hassan. “It’s the one thing keeping the country secure….But we don’t think Sisi will be able to do much more than keep control. “

Does that mean Egypt is a police state again? “That’s the way it looks to outsiders, and this is the way the Muslim Brotherhood describes the regime. But that’s not the way the majority of Egyptians see it,” says Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a sociologist and human rights activist jailed by Mubarak in 2000.

“Egyptians love stability,” Ibrahim explains. Living beside the Nile for thousands of years, he says, Egyptians relied on the course and predictability of its flow for life itself — and the same desire for steadfast permanence has dictated the shape of Egyptian politics. “This is the whole idea of a hydraulic society,” Ibrahim says. “You have a central authority that maintains law and order, and regulates the river, because it’s the only source of survival.”

Another veteran activist, Wael Nawara, says wariness of instability is what brought people into the streets against Morsi last June 30, fearing that after three years of incessant political tumult the state was nearing collapse. “Understand the model: It’s the people,” says Nawara, who co-founded the Constitution Party with Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei. “The people made a decision to [depose Morsi]. Not the army. The country was collapsing.”

Nawara says he supports Sisi, but adds, “I’m not betting on him. I’m betting on the Egyptian people, because he is following them.”

Ibrahim agrees that something fundamental has changed. “Water does not pass under the bridge twice,” he says. “Things have proceeded in a way that is irreversible. The wall of fear that has remained in Egypt for 6,000 years–with this Pharaonic, hydraulic central authority–that no longer is there. Everyone is talking politics.”

Not quite everyone. Back at the hookah bar, the artists say they’re growing wary of speaking their minds. “The problem now is people are not generating the atmosphere of freedom,” says Aya Amr. “When I’m in a group taxi now and I say I’m against Sisi, people get angry with me.”

Adds Aya Fayez: “The society is divided into two parts: Sisi or Brotherhood. If you speak against Sisi, you’re Brotherhood, and the other way around. Which reduces my freedom. Even on Facebook, I’m not speaking any more about politics. People fight over every word that’s said. You find fighting inside the home, between friends, losing each other because everyone’s very rigid in their opinion.”

Magdy, the Tahrir activist who a few minutes earlier called security key to everything, now adds the situation is far from ideal. “The heavy hand of security, and arresting everyone near the Brotherhood makes the families stricter with their kids, always advising them not to speak: ‘Don’t say anything about Sisi or the Brotherhood.’ ‘Don’t speak in the taxi, don’t speak in class.’”

So things are not always as they seem, either inside or outside Egypt. Consider that Amr Badr, the spokesman for presidential contender Sabahi, meets TIME at the online newspaper he edits. It’s a hive of twenty-somethings swarming workstations where a screensaver shows a bloodied protester. But while the blood was real enough, the freedom, Badr says, is an illusion. “Actually, everything you see from outside is true,” he says. “We are turning back to a police regime.”

The only thing that’s totally clear is that the country is in yet another transition. But the direction is evident even to visitors. In the current EgyptAir inflight magazine, there in the seat pocket of every flight to and from Cairo, the centerpiece is not a glossy photo spread of a new tourist destination but rather a tribute to “Egypt’s greatest modern soldier, General Abdel Moneim Riad,” the Six-Day War commander remembered as a martyr. His statue presides over a grubby downtown traffic circle the magazine struggled in vain to make look attractive in a photo, but could not. It just looked like a clumsy attempt to please the new boss.

 

 

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