Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Encircling China: Laotian Landmines

Look who is laying them:

"John Kerry to discuss unexploded US bombs on trip to Laos" by Daniel Malloy Globe Correspondent  January 22, 2016

VIENTIANE, Laos — More than 40 years later, it is still a regular event in the countryside.

A child picks up what looks like a toy, a farmer hits a buried shell with a shovel, or a villager tries to snag some scrap metal — and an American bomb explodes.

Hundreds of people are killed or wounded each year by the remnants of the United States’ bombing campaign in Laos.

It's a legacy they left behind.

As Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Laotian leaders here Monday, unexploded bombs are expected to be a point of discussion with a developing country that will host a US president for the first time when President Obama visits later this year. The State Department declined to reveal what, if anything, Kerry will say publicly about the bombs during his visit.

Laos is the most bombed country in history, posing a poignant challenge for Kerry, who served in the Vietnam War, then returned home to become one of its leading protesters and launch his political career.

“We thought we were a moral country, yes, but we are now engaged in the most rampant bombing in the history of mankind,” Kerry said on “The Dick Cavett Show” in 1971, long before the scope of the so-called secret war in Laos was publicly known.

Kerry played a big role in normalizing relations with Vietnam as a US senator from Massachusetts. As America’s top diplomat, he now emphasizes bomb cleanup efforts as he builds ties in the region.

Honoring the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations last year, Kerry said the United States continues to “make real our pledge to help clear Laos of unexploded ordnance.”

(Blog editor not only shakes head at how long it has taken to "clear" things, but also thinking about all the places since where ordnance has been dropped. What a term. It sanitizes the destruction of human flesh and beings with bombs. Just ordnance. It's an ordinary thing, this waging war and dropping bombs bit.

I better watch where I'm stepping)

The Obama administration and Congress have vastly increased funding for bomb cleanup and victim care. The $19.5 million in December’s yearlong spending bill is up from about $2 million per year less than a decade ago.

Yup, we will be cleaning up after the wars long into the future while vets get pushed back on wait times and on and on.  Don't get me wrong. I'm not against removing unexploded bombs anywhere and view it as good money spent. It would be another part of my "defense" budget.

It will take far more to remedy a staggering problem. One-third of Laos — which is slightly larger than Minnesota — was bombed, and less than 1 percent of that land has been cleared of explosives.

And this is after 40 years. The extrapolations don't look good for future success.

US planes released cluster munitions full of about 270 million small “bombies” from 1964 to 1973, and an estimated 80 million of them did not explode. A mass of ball bearings and explosives smaller than a man’s fist, they unleash lethal amounts of shrapnel when triggered.

Not much has changed for they are still using such things.

The United States is now helping fund Laos’s first national survey on unexploded bombs, as cleanup crews have long relied on old bombing maps and removal requests from villagers.

Kind of owe it to them.

The survey aims to answer “how long is this going to take, and when are we going to finish this job,” said Channapha Khamvongsa, executive director of Washington-based advocacy group Legacies of War.

The prime reason for Kerry’s visit is to pave the way for a special meeting in California next month of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Later this year, at an ASEAN summit, Obama will become the first US president to visit Laos, continuing the administration’s “pivot” to Asia.

China’s heavy footprint, especially in Laos’s north, has caused some friction with local people and officials, particularly over land issues,” said Murray Hiebert, a Southeast Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. This “has provided Washington a strategic opportunity in Laos,” he said.

But Joshua Kurlantzick, a Southeast Asia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said America has only “modest” interests in the landlocked country of fewer than 7 million, and bomb cleanup money will not curry much favor.

“I’m sure they’re thankful, but at the same time, it’s mostly the US’s fault,” Kurlantzick said. “They’re not going to be that grateful.”

The capital city of Vientiane sits on the Mekong River, which winds its way southward to its delta in Vietnam, where Kerry captained a swift boat during the war.

Those days informed his work in the Senate and State Department to remove explosives around the world.

“We looked for antipersonnel mines hidden in discarded C-rations, sometimes booby traps that were made from old artillery shells stuffed with explosives and wrapped in wax and bamboo, and on occasion we were hit by underwater mines, which were exploded remotely during the time when we would pass through,” Kerry said in 2014 when announcing a new report on global unexploded bomb and mine removal.

“So I learned something about the insidious nature of these instruments of battle.”

Then why.... never mind. I give up on these guys.

Kerry earned a Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three purple hearts in the Navy in Vietnam, while the CIA and the Air Force were engaged in a secret air war in neighboring Laos.

US planes made 580,000 bombing runs over Laos in an attempt to disrupt Ho Chi Minh Trail supply lines and dislodge the Pathet Lao communists, dropping more bombs than the Allies dropped on Germany and Japan combined in World War II.

Excuse me?

Such grim statistics and graphic documentary films greet visitors to the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise in Vientiane. The visitor center’s tower of prosthetic legs shows how COPE supports medical care for 1,000 survivors per year.

While about half of COPE’s funding comes from the US government, the organization’s Isabelle Bouan said a strong public statement from Kerry could inspire more private donors.

“We will see when he talks,” Bouan said. “Hopes are high.”

They are not here, sorry.


RelatedLaos assures US it will help counter Chinese assertiveness

Laos is one of the last few communist nations in the world. The country has moved away from a hard-line communist system in the past two decades, but like its close ally Vietnam, it retains a one-party political system, and its government has been criticized for being intolerant of dissent. Kerry said relations with Laos are improving after a period of war and mutual suspicion. Kerry and Laos’s leaders discussed increased US funding for a variety of projects here. That includes the removal of unexploded bombs dropped by American warplanes during the Vietnam War era, which still cause frequent casualties. Kerry, a Vietnam War veteran, also brought up a new $6 million child nutrition program and a United States-funded “smart infrastructure” for the Mekong River. Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong “was very clear that he wants to avoid militarization and avoid the conflict,” Kerry told reporters."  

As they cut food stamps here and the country is falling apart.

If you listen carefully you can hear the cry of the mockingbird in the Laotian jungle:

"Vint Lawrence, CIA officer in jungles of Laos before becoming a caricaturist" by Harrison Smith Washington Post  April 18, 2016

WASHINGTON — Vint Lawrence, a CIA paramilitary officer who helped organize a secret war in the jungles of Laos before becoming an artist and caricaturist, died April 9 at a hospital in New Haven. He was 76.

Mr. Lawrence began making detailed line drawings of presidents, writers, and international events around 1970, freelancing for Washington Monthly and The Washington Post, particularly the newspaper’s Book World section. He was later a contributing editor at the New Republic.

No transformation was more dazzling than that of Mr. Lawrence himself, who had just graduated from Princeton University with a bachelor’s degree in art history when he was drafted into the Army and recruited by the CIA in 1960. He found himself in Laos two years later, in the midst of a bloody civil war between the country’s Communist party and ruling monarchy.

Who do you think was instigating it?

The rugged, landlocked nation had become a crucial battlefield of the Vietnam War because of the Ho Chi Minh trail, a winding North Vietnamese supply route that carried troops and munitions through eastern Laos and south to Vietnam.

Mr. Lawrence was tasked with coordinating between American forces and a guerrilla army led by Vang Pao, a charismatic Hmong general whom CIA Director William Colby later called ‘‘the biggest hero of the Vietnam War.’’

For three years, Mr. Lawrence spent nearly every hour of the day with Vang Pao, planning raids on North Vietnamese soldiers and developing a 39,000-person army at a secret base in the valley of Long Cheng.

He returned to the United States in 1964, 11 years before Vang Pao and his forces were defeated by the Communists, to work as an aide for Colby — then a high-ranking deputy at the CIA — and later for Paul Nitze, deputy secretary of defense.

He seemed to have a long career in government ahead of him when he decided to drop everything and become an artist, encouraged by an unusual meeting with the dean of the Maryland Institute College of Art.

That was his new assignment!

Anne Garrels, his wife and a broadcast journalist long associated with National Public Radio, said the dean told Mr. Lawrence, ‘‘You should go up in your attic and see if you like working alone.’’ 

Call is really loud now!

After the meeting, Mr. Lawrence climbed upstairs, shut the door and — after a few sketches — found a new calling....



"Kerry urges Southeast Asia unity on South China Sea disputes" by Matthew Lee Associated Press   July 25, 2016

VIENTIANE, Laos — Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday urged the divided nations of Southeast Asia to forge a consensus on how to address disputes with China in the South China Sea, appealing to the 10 countries to embrace a rules-based international system to resolve those differences peacefully.

Speaking to his foreign minister counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at a regional security conference in Laos, Kerry made his call shortly after ASEAN was unable to agree on a joint statement criticizing China for its territorial expansion in the South China Sea.

Instead, the nations adopted a statement expressing concern about developments in the waters that made no mention of a landmark July 12 international arbitration panel ruling in a dispute between the Philippines and China that said Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea were illegal.

In other words, he got snubbed by a subtle flip of the finger by all Asian allies who -- surprisingly -- don't want war coming to their seas and shores, whoever they are sharing them with.

In a meeting with the Lao foreign minister, whose country currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the bloc, Kerry ‘‘urged ASEAN to reach consensus and issue a joint statement on the arbitral tribunal’s recent ruling on the South China Sea,’’ the State Department said.

Addressing the foreign ministers of all 10 ASEAN members, Kerry stressed the need to comply with ‘‘a rules-based international system that protects the rights of all nations whether big or small.’’

Take that talk to Israel, John, or shaddup!

He wrapped up his remarks by noting ‘‘how much can be accomplished when we work together, invest in the future, and perhaps most importantly support the rules-based system that has led to steadily increased peace and prosperity for nearly 50 years now.’’

For who?

The State Department said later that behind closed doors Kerry and the other foreign ministers had affirmed ASEAN’s willingness to resolve disputes peacefully. But it was clear that not all agreed on respecting the arbitration decision.

Why must a "but" always be attached to peace?

‘‘Several stressed that both parties in the Philippines-China arbitration [should] abide by the decision and uphold international law,’’ the department said, an acknowledgment of the lack of consensus.

Diplomats at the talks have said that Cambodia, and to a certain extent Laos, had been opposed to a strong statement on the South China Sea disputes.

Oh, Laos, too?

After hectic negotiations before Kerry’s arrival in Vientiane from Paris earlier Monday, ASEAN issued a watered-down rebuke of China that amounted to less than a slap on the wrist, and exposed the deep divisions in a regional body that prides itself on unity.

I think they were showing unity in a way.

China is bitterly opposed to the arbitration decision and vowed to ignore it. The United States has urged both China and the Philippines to respect the ruling.

In Beijing on Monday, US National Security Adviser Susan Rice told Chinese President Xi Jinping that China and the United States should deal with their differences candidly. 

What is she doing over there stirring up more wars?!! 

This is one of the ladies -- along with Clinton -- who said let's go into Libya and overthrow Khadafy!

Rice is the highest-level White House official to visit China since the July 12 tribunal ruling delivered a victory to the Philippines, a US ally.

On the sidelines of the conference in Laos, Kerry met the foreign ministers of Japan and Australia and all three expressed ‘‘serious concerns’’ about the South China Sea disputes and Chinese land reclamation in contested areas.

Kerry will travel to Manila on Tuesday for talks with new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that are likely to focus on the South China Sea tensions.

Actually, that is the next destination for me as well seeing as the land invasion has stalled due to the landmines placed by Cambodia and Laos. 

Turn back!