• The Price of ISIS

    November 19, 2015 // 4 Comments »

    kobane

    What is the price of America’s war against Islamic State? Higher than you think.

    Last week saw the first American ground combat death in Iraq since 2011. Sadly, such deaths are a price always paid in war. The cost of the fight against Islamic State in dollars is staggering; more than $2.7 billion so far, with the average daily cost around $11 million.

    But costs should also be measured in the chaos the war has spawned, and in the additional problems for American foreign policy it has created.

    Vast areas of Syria have been reduced to rubble, and refugee flows have created a humanitarian disaster; more than 240,000 people have died in the conflict, and nearly 12 million people – half the country’s population – have been driven from their homes. Whereas at one point an American goal was to depose Bashar Assad because he (only) was bombing his own people, those same people now suffer attacks from the air and the ground by the United States, Russia, Britain, Jordan, Turkey, France, Canada, Australia, Iran, a handful of Gulf nations, and Islamic State and its cohorts.

    The de facto strategy seems to be evolving into a Vietnam War-era “destroying Syria in order to save it.” The reconstruction of Syria will be expensive, though it is unclear who will pay that bill. But allowing the country to become a failed state, a haven for terror groups like Sudan in the 1990s and Afghanistan post-9/11, will be even more expensive.

    The price being paid, however, extends beyond Syria’s borders.

    NATO ally Turkey has long supported Islamic State, leaving its border with Syria open as a transit point, and allowing Islamic State to broker oil on the black market. Turkey’s actions are intimately tied to its violent history with the Kurds. A weak Islamic State empowers the Kurds. Initial American efforts to enlist Turkey into the Islamic State fight thus met with little success.

    That appeared to change in August 2015, when Washington reached a deal allowing it to fly strike missions against Syria from inside Turkey. However, there appeared to be a quid pro quo: on the same day Turkey announced it would help fight Islamic State, it also began an air campaign against Kurdish groups tied to the only effective fighting force the United States has so far found – the unicorn – the peshmerga.

    The Kurds’ vision for their nation extends beyond their confederacy in Iraq, into Turkey and Syria. It endangers whatever hopes America may still have for a united Iraq. It also ensures Kurdish national ambitions denied since the end of World War I will need to be addressed alongside any resolution in Syria, as Kurdish forces occupy areas in the north of that country. That’s a tall diplomatic order.

    The fight against Islamic State is also playing out elsewhere in Iraq, as the United States has had to accept Iranian leadership, special forces, and weapons inside same the nation Americans died “saving” only a few years ago. The growing Iranian influence is closely coupled with American acceptance of Shi’ite militias now in the field, after the Iraqi Army ran away from Islamic State.

    The government in Iraq today is a collection of mostly Shi’ite factions, each with one of those militias on call. With a weak prime minister, and with Islamic State for the time being pushed back from the gates of Baghdad, the Shi’ites are free to maneuver for power. A price to be paid for the conflict with Islamic State could easily be a civil war inside a civil war.

    And of course there is Russia, who, under the loose cover of fighting Islamic State, quickly re-established itself as a military force in the heart of the Middle East. It is difficult to imagine them leaving. Until now, the United States has had a relatively free hand in the region as no one had the military power to seriously challenge an American move. That has changed. Any significant change in Syria is now subject to a Putin veto.

    Meanwhile, despite the costs, Islamic State remains as strong as it has ever been, with American actions serving as its best recruitment tool.

    Defeating Islamic State” is far too simplistic for a regional strategy. And who can really afford that?




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    What If They Gave a War and Everyone Came?

    November 3, 2015 // 5 Comments »

    army

    What if the U.S. had not invaded Iraq in 2003? How would things be different in the Middle East today? Was Iraq, in the words of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, the “worst foreign policy blunder” in American history?

    Let’s take a big-picture tour of the Middle East and try to answer those questions. But first, a request: after each paragraph that follows, could you make sure to add the question “What could possibly go wrong?”


    Let the History Begin

    In March 2003, when the Bush administration launched its invasion of Iraq, the region, though simmering as ever, looked like this: Libya was stable, ruled by the same strongman for 42 years; in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak had been in power since 1983; Syria had been run by the Assad family since 1971; Saddam Hussein had essentially been in charge of Iraq since 1969, formally becoming president in 1979; the Turks and Kurds had an uneasy but functional ceasefire; and Yemen was quiet enough, other than the terror attack on the USS Cole in 2000. Relations between the U.S. and most of these nations were so warm that Washington was routinely rendering “terrorists” to their dungeons for some outsourced torture.

    Soon after March 2003, when U.S. troops invaded Iraq, neighboring Iran faced two American armies at the peak of their strength. To the east, the U.S. military had effectively destroyed the Taliban and significantly weakened al-Qaeda, both enemies of Iran, but had replaced them as an occupying force. To the west, Iran’s decades-old enemy, Saddam, was gone, but similarly replaced by another massive occupying force. From this position of weakness, Iran’s leaders, no doubt terrified that the Americans would pour across its borders, sought real diplomatic rapprochement with Washington for the first time since 1979. The Iranian efforts were rebuffed by the Bush administration.


    The Precipitating Event

    Nailing down causation is a tricky thing. But like the June 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that kicked off the Great War, the one to end all others, America’s 2003 invasion was what novelists refer to as “the precipitating event,” the thing that may not actively cause every plot twist to come, but that certainly sets them in motion.

    There hadn’t been such an upset in the balance of power in the Middle East since, well, World War I, when Great Britain and France secretly reached the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which, among other things, divided up most of the Arab lands that had been under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Because the national boundaries created then did not respect on-the-ground tribal, political, ethnic, and religious realities, they could be said to have set the stage for much that was to come.

    Now, fast forward to 2003, as the Middle East we had come to know began to unravel. Those U.S. troops had rolled into Baghdad only to find themselves standing there, slack-jawed, gazing at the chaos. Now, fast forward one more time to 2015 and let the grand tour of the unraveling begin!


    The Sick Men of the Middle East: It’s easy enough to hustle through three countries in the region in various states of decay before heading into the heart of the chaos: Libya is a failed state, bleeding mayhem into northern Africa; Egypt failed its Arab Spring test and relies on the United States to support its anti-democratic (as well as anti-Islamic fundamentalist) militarized government; and Yemen is a disastrously failed state, now the scene of a proxy war between U.S.-backed Saudi Arabia and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels (with a thriving al-Qaeda outfit and a small but growing arm of the Islamic State [ISIS] thrown into the bargain).


    Iraq: Obama is now the fourth American president in a row to have ordered the bombing of Iraq and his successor will almost certainly be the fifth. If ever a post-Vietnam American adventure deserved to inherit the moniker of quagmire, Iraq is it.

    And here’s the saddest part of the tale: the forces loosed there in 2003 have yet to reach their natural end point. Your money should be on the Shias, but imagining that there is only one Shia horse to bet on means missing just how broad the field really is. What passes for a Shia “government” in Baghdad today is a collection of interest groups, each with its own militia. Having replaced the old strongman prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, with a weak one, Haider al-Abadi, and with ISIS chased from the gates of Baghdad, each Shia faction is now free to jockey for position. The full impact of the cleaving of Iraq has yet to be felt. At some point expect a civil war inside a civil war.


    Iran: If there is any unifying authority left in Iraq, it is Iran. After the initial 2003 blitzkrieg, the Bush administration’s version of neocolonial management in Iraq resulted in the rise of Sunni insurgents, Shia militias, and an influx of determined foreign fighters. Tehran rushed into the power vacuum, and, in 2011, in an agreement brokered by the departing Bush administration and carried out by President Obama, the Americans ran for the exits. The Iranians stayed. Now, they have entered an odd-couple marriage with the U.S. against what Washington pretends is a common foe — ISIS — but which the Iranians and their allies in Baghdad see as a war against the Sunnis in general. At this point, Washington has all but ceded Iraq to the new Persian Empire; everyone is just waiting for the paperwork to clear.

    The Iranians continue to meddle in Syria as well, supporting Bashar al-Assad. Under Russian air cover, Iran is increasing its troop presence there, too. According to a recent report, Tehran is sending 2,000 troops to Syria, along with 5,000 Iraqi and Afghan Shia fighters. Perhaps they’re already calling it “the Surge” in Farsi.


    The Kurds: The idea of creating a “Kurdistan” was crossed off the post-World War I “to do” list. The 1920 Treaty of Sèvres at first left an opening for a referendum on whether the Kurds wanted to remain part of what remained of the Ottoman Empire or become independent. Problem one: the referendum did not include plans for the Kurds in what became Syria and Iraq. Problem two: the referendum never happened, a victim of the so-called Turkish War of Independence. The result: some 20 million angry Kurds scattered across parts of modern Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria.

    That American invasion of 2003, however, opened the way for the Kurds to form a virtual independent statelet, a confederacy if you will, even if still confined within Iraq’s borders. At the time, the Kurds were labeled America’s only true friends in Iraq and rewarded with many weapons and much looking the other way, even as Bush administration officials blathered on about the goal of a united Iraq.

    In 2014, the Kurds benefited from U.S. power a second time. Desperate for someone to fight ISIS after Iraq’s American-trained army turned tail (and before the Iranians and the Shia militias entered the fight in significant force), the Obama administration once again began sending arms and equipment to the Kurds while flying close air support for their militia, the peshmerga. The Kurds responded by fighting well, at least in what they considered the Kurdish part of Iraq. However, their interest in getting involved in the greater Sunni-Shia civil war was minimal. In a good turn for them, the U.S. military helped Kurdish forces move into northern Syria, right along the Turkish border. While fighting ISIS, the Kurds also began retaking territory they traditionally considered their own. They may yet be the true winners in all this, unless Turkey stands in their way.


    Turkey: Relations between the Turks and the Kurds have never been rosy, both inside Turkey and along the Iraqi-Turkish border.

    Inside Turkey, the primary Kurdish group calling for an independent state is the Kurdistan Workers party (also known as the PKK). Its first insurgency ran from 1984 until 1999, when the PKK declared a unilateral cease-fire. The armed conflict broke out again in 2004, ending in a ceasefire in 2013, which was, in turn, broken recently. Over the years, the Turkish military also carried out repeated ground incursions and artillery strikes against the PKK inside Iraq.

    As for ISIS, the Turks long had a kind of one-way “open-door policy” on their border with Syria, allowing Islamic State fighters and foreign volunteers to transit into that country. ISIS also brokered significant amounts of black market oil in Turkey to fund itself, perhaps with the tacit support, or at least the willful ignorance, of the Turkish authorities. While the Turks claimed to see ISIS as an anti-Assad force, some felt Turkey’s generous stance toward the movement reflected the government’s preference for having anything but an expanded Kurdish presence on its border. In June of this year, Turkish President Recep Erdogan went as far as to say that he would “never allow the establishment of a Kurdish state in northern Syria.”

    In light of all that, it’s hardly surprising that early Obama administration efforts to draw Turkey into the fight against ISIS were unsuccessful. Things changed in August 2015, when a supposedly anti-ISIS cooperation deal was reached with Washington. The Turks agreed to allow the Americans to fly strike missions from two air bases in Turkey against ISIS in Syria. However, there appeared to be an unpublicized quid pro quo: the U.S. would turn a blind eye to Turkish military action against its allies the Kurds. On the same day that Turkey announced that it would fight the Islamic State in earnest, it also began an air campaign against the PKK.

    Washington, for its part, claimed that it had been “tricked” by the wily Turks, while adding, “We fully respect our ally Turkey’s right to self-defense.” In the process, the Kurds found themselves supported by the U.S. in the struggle with ISIS, even as they were being thrown to the (Turkish) wolves. There is a Kurdish expression suggesting that Kurds have “no friends but the mountains.” Should they ever achieve a trans-border Kurdistan, they will certainly have earned it.


    Syria: Through a series of events almost impossible to sort out, having essentially supported the Arab Spring nowhere else, the Obama administration chose to do so in Syria, attempting to use it to turn President Bashar al-Assad out of office. In the process, the Obama administration found itself ever deeper in a conflict it couldn’t control and eternally in search of that unicorn, the moderate Syrian rebel who could be trained to push Assad out without allowing Islamic fundamentalists in. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda spin-offs, including the Islamic State, found haven in the dissolving borderlands between Iraq and Syria, and in that country’s Sunni heartlands.

    An indecisive Barack Obama allowed America’s involvement in Syria to ebb and flow. In September 2013, on the verge of a massive strike against the forces of the Assad regime, Obama suddenly punted the decision to Congress, which, of course, proved capable of deciding nothing at all. In November 2013, again on the verge of attacking Syria, the president allowed himself to be talked down after a gaffe by Secretary of State John Kerry opened the door to Russian diplomatic intercession. In September 2014, in a relatively sudden reversal, Obama launched a war against ISIS in Syria, which has proved at best indecisive.


    Russia: That brings us to Vladimir Putin, the Syrian game-changer of the moment. In September, the Russian president sent a small but powerful military force into a neglected airfield in Latakia, Syria. With “fighting ISIS” little more than their cover story, the Russians are now serving as Assad’s air force, as well as his chief weapons supplier and possible source of “volunteer” soldiers. 

    The thing that matters most, however, is those Russian planes. They have essentially been given a guarantee of immunity to being shot down by the more powerful U.S. Air Force presence in the region (as Washington has nothing to gain and much to worry about when it comes to entering into open conflict with the Russians). That allows them near-impunity to strike when and where they wish in support of whom they wish. It also negates any chance of the U.S. setting up a no-fly zone in parts of Syria.

    The Russians have little incentive to depart, given the free pass handed them by the Obama administration. Meanwhile, the Russian military is growing closer to the Iranians with whom they share common cause in Syria, and also the Shia government in Baghdad, which may soon invite them to join the fight there against ISIS. One can almost hear Putin chortling. He may not, in fact, be the most skilled strategist in the world, but he’s certainly the luckiest. When someone hands you the keys, you take the car.


    World War I

    As in imperial Europe in the period leading up to the First World War, the collapse of an entire order in the Middle East is in process, while forces long held in check are being released. In response, the former superpowers of the Cold War era have once again mobilized, at least modestly, even though both are fearful of a spark that could push them into direct conflict. Each has entangling regional relationships that could easily exacerbate the fight: Russia with Syria, the U.S. with Saudi Arabia and Israel, plus NATO obligations to Turkey. (The Russians have already probed Turkish airspace and the Turks recently shot down a drone coyly labeled of “unknown origin.”)

    Imagine a scenario that pulls any of those allies deeper into the mess: some Iranian move in Syria, which prompts a response by Israel in the Golan Heights, which prompts a Russian move in relation to Turkey, which prompts a call to NATO for help… you get the picture. Or imagine another scenario: with nearly every candidate running for president in the United States growling about the chance to confront Putin, what would happen if the Russians accidentally shot down an American plane? Could Obama resist calls for retaliation?

    As before World War I, the risk of setting something in motion that can’t be stopped does exist.


    What Is This All About Again?

    What if the U.S. hadn’t invaded Iraq in 2003? Things would undoubtedly be very different in the Middle East today. America’s war in Afghanistan was unlikely to have been a big enough spark to set off the range of changes Iraq let loose. There were only some 10,000 America soldiers in Afghanistan in 2003 (5,200 in 2002) and there had not been any Abu Ghraib-like indiscriminate torture, no equivalent to the scorched earth policy in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, nothing to spark a trans-border Sunni-Shia-Kurd struggle, no room for Iran to meddle. The Americans were killing Muslims in Afghanistan, but they were not killing Arabs, and they were not occupying Arab lands.

    The invasion of Iraq, however, did happen. Now, some 12 years later, the most troubling thing about the current war in the Middle East, from an American perspective, is that no one here really knows why the country is still fighting. The commonly stated reason — “defeat ISIS” — is hardly either convincing or self-explanatory. Defeat ISIS why?

    The best Washington can come up with are the same vague threats of terrorism against the homeland that have fueled its disastrous wars since 9/11. The White House can stipulate that Assad is a bad guy and that the ISIS crew are really, really bad guys, but bad guys are hardly in short supply, including in countries the U.S. supports. In reality, the U.S. has few clear goals in the region, but is escalating anyway.

    Whatever world order the U.S. may be fighting for in the Middle East, it seems at least an empire or two out of date. Washington refuses to admit to itself that the ideas of Islamic fundamentalism resonate with vast numbers of people. At this point, even as U.S. TOW missiles are becoming as ubiquitous as iPads in the region, American military power can only delay changes, not stop them. Unless a rebalancing of power that would likely favor some version of Islamic fundamentalism takes hold and creates some measure of stability in the Middle East, count on one thing: the U.S. will be fighting the sons of ISIS years from now.

    Back to World War I. The last time Russia and the U.S. both had a powerful presence in the Middle East, the fate of their proxies in the 1973 Yom Kippur War almost brought on a nuclear exchange. No one is predicting a world war or a nuclear war from the mess in Syria. However, like those final days before the Great War, one finds a lot of pieces in play inside a tinderbox.


    Now, all together: What could possibly go wrong?




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    U.S. to Iraq: If Russia Helps You Fight ISIS, We Won’t

    October 28, 2015 // 5 Comments »

    obama-mission-accomplished

    This. Is. Hilarious.

    Honestly, I can’t stop laughing. I gotta wipe the tears out of my eyes, seriously. I feel like I need to start including the line “This is real. It is not from the Onion” as a standard disclaimer.



    But They Promised

    So it seems the U.S. has told Iraq’s leaders they must choose between American support against Islamic State and Russian support. Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Iraqis “promised” they would not request any Russian airstrikes or support for the fight against IS.

    Dunford told reporters he had laid out a choice when he met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. “I said it would make it very difficult for us to be able to provide the kind of support you need if the Russians were here conducting operations as well,” Dunford said. “We can’t conduct operations if the Russians were operating in Iraq right now.”

    He said there was “angst” in the U.S. when reports surfaced that al-Abadi had said he would welcome Russian airstrikes in Iraq. The U.S., Dunford said, “can’t have a relationship right now with Russia in the context of Iraq.”



    And Now, We Laugh

    We begin laughing in that the U.S. does not seem to have any problems with the Iranians (who are also active in Syria, supporting Assad) working out in Iraq. The Iranians overtly have special forces, leadership and trainers on the ground there, have sent in armor and by many accounts supplied limited numbers of ground troops. But that seems to be OK.

    The hilarity continues because the U.S. sort of started off welcoming the Russians into the fight against IS in Syria, at least until the U.S. realized it had been played by Putin, and that the Russians in fact did not share American goals (who would have thought it?) and instead supported Assad. I mean, Russia has been Assad’s only supporter, ally, and benefactor for decades, and the Russians maintained their only remaining overseas military base in Syria since forever, so it made perfect sense for the U.S. to believe they would not side with Assad, right?

    It is even funnier when you realize the U.S. has no real goals or business left in Iraq, except now to have hissy fits to make sure that it is Iran that retains defacto control there instead of the Russians.

    And of course, since the Iraqis “promised” not to take Russian help, well, that makes it a done deal, right?

    Plus if the Russians did step in, what would the U.S. really do? Pack everything up in Iraq and just come home? Leave the Russians to guard the American Embassy? Hah, as if the U.S. would just leave Iraq.

    But the true amusement is that if the Iraqis want the Russians to help — maybe as “volunteers” — there is not a damn thing the U.S. can do about that, other than move aside, as is happening in Syria.


    Seriously, this is what’s left of American foreign policy?




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    Confused About Syria and Iraq

    October 5, 2015 // 12 Comments »

    vintage-man-confused


    Why exactly again is the U.S. at war in Syria and Iraq? Here’s a potpourri of fun things.


    I heard it was something to do with Islamic State, a bunch of guys who have never done anything outside their own neighborhood but who we are afraid will strike inside the United States at any moment.

    They’ve never done that, anywhere, and seem to have their hands full in Syria and Iraq, plus most of their heavy weapons seem to come from American allies handing our stuff over to them. It is almost as if by elevating them to Bond-villain status they are able to use that notoriety to recruit more fighters.

    And of course to strike inside the U.S. ISIS would need to get in line behind our own mass shooters.

    We’re no longer really even giving lip service to saving Iraq, so why are we fighting over there?


    Now in Syria a couple of years ago we started our war there because Assad was butchering his own people, what with the barrel bombs and the chemical weapons and such. Well, we’ve shown him. He is no longer butchering his own people, others are. Currently the U.S., Russia, Turkey, UAE, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, France and Jordan are bombing Syria.

    Also, the war to save the Syrians from their dictator has killed 250,000 people since March 2011 and sent millions of refugees fleeing to other countries in the Middle East and to Europe.



    Maybe I could check with the Iranians. They, too, are fighting in Iraq, but in order to maintain control over the Shiite government as their proxy, and to push aside or wipe out the Sunnis, all in contravention of American goals, except America is helping the Iranians because they are also killing them some ISIS.

    The Iranians are also fighting in Syria, on Assad’s side allied with the Russians. We help the Iranians in Iraq, but not in Syria.


    Now the Saudis, they know where they stand. They do sometimes do a little tiny bit of bombing stuff in Syria, and especially in Yemen, probably Islamic State, but who knows, because they live in literal terror about terrorism sweeping away their repressive monarchy. The Saudis are also bombing Syria because the Saudis are one of America’s closest allies in the region.

    Except that donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to terrorist groups worldwide. In fact, Hillary Clinton even said so, in a Wikileaks document from 2009 classified as secret, where she admonished her diplomats that “More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other terrorist groups.”

    Oh, also, the Saudis may have helped fund 9/11. See, there was this disagreement between the secular monarchy and the religious side of the Kingdom, that resulted in Islamic religious zealots being assigned into Saudi embassies worldwide as part of the balancing act/compromise, including in the U.S. Some of those “diplomats” collected donations from within the Kingdom and funneled them to extremists in the the U.S. and elsewhere, such as the 9/11 guys. I heard.


    Also, we’re bombing hospitals and killing doctors in Afghanistan, apparently to prove the axiom that when we do it it’s an accident and when they do it it’s barbaric terrorism.


    Anyway, if anyone can straighten me out on all this, please, I need your help. Thanks!



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    ISIS Planning Nuclear Holocaust, Will Wipe ‘Millions from Face of the Earth’

    October 1, 2015 // 4 Comments »

    ISIS-New-York-Threat

    Lions and tigers and bears… and now IS will use nuclear weapons to destroy everythings and everybodys. You may all commence panicking now.



    Nuclear Holocaust

    Well, it is official. Islamic State terrorists want to wipe the west off the face of the earth with a nuclear holocaust, according to a journalist who spent ten days with the group while researching a book he is now promoting.

    The terror organization allowed 75-year-old former German legislator Jurgen Todenhofer to embed with the group because he has been a critic of U.S. policy in the Middle East. After ten whole days of deep bonding, IS revealed to the German its secret plans to launch a “nuclear tsunami” against the west and anyone else that opposes their plans for an Islamic caliphate. Todenhofer then wrote up his findings in a book he is pimping called Inside IS – Ten Days In The Islamic State.

    So it’s official.



    So Where Do You Get a Nuke?

    Now, the next questions are: how will IS get a nuclear weapon (or multiple nukes to create a nuclear tsunami), transport those nukes to their targets and then detonate them?

    John Cantlie, a British photojournalist has been held captive for more than two years by IS, knows. Apparently IS is pretty liberal about telling random Westerners their evil plans.

    A story by Cantlie, entitled “The Perfect Storm,” claims IS has billions of dollars in the bank and describes it buying a nuclear bomb “through weapons dealers with links to corrupt officials” in Pakistan. IS will then smuggle the devices out of Pakistan, into Mexico by boat, and bring them undetected into American cities to set them off.

    Oh, and, right: Cantlie is still in IS custody, and the story he may or may not even have written was published in the terror group’s own magazine, Dabiq, so that makes it all credible.



    Nuke, Redux

    The thing is, we have heard this scary story so many times before.

    The first popular versions began circulating in the 1990’s, when the culprits were the old, crumbling Soviet Union. Desperate government officials there were going to sell nukes to the official bad guy of the day, Libya’s Qaddafi.

    That didn’t happen.

    The Bush administration revived the story as an excuse to invade Iraq in 2003 — remember Condoleezza Rice announcing the “smoking gun” was going to be a mushroom cloud over Washington DC?

    That didn’t happen.

    Somewhere in there when North Korea went nuclear they were going to sell nukes to maybe al Qaeda, for hard currency. Pakistan was going to do the same with their “Islamic Bomb.” And sure, Iran, which does not have a bomb, was also going to do it.

    None of that happened. But now IS will do it!!!



    Practical Considerations

    Anyway, so IS picks up a few nukes — somewhere, wherever — and then all they have to do is surreptitiously move nuclear weapons around the world undetected, off-shore them in Mexico, hire trucks and then drive those trucks across the U.S. border undetected (perhaps disguised as bales of marijuana) and place them in cities. Then set them off, maybe with a giant red button. Or maybe they could use the guy who couldn’t even set his own underwear on fire on a plane to do it.

    See, nukes are sort of big, heavy things that have to be properly transported, armed and triggered. It is possible that even before that happens, someone might wonder what is going on at the port, or the trucking depot.

    And note to IS: better hurry. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the world has more to fear from a nuclear-capable Iran than IS terrorists. This kind of nuclear tsunami only really counts if you do it first.

    Should we discard this all as more scary stories? Naw, it is easier to give in to this (repetitious) fear mongering. It worked to scare us many times in the past, so we might as well go along with it this time, too. And what if they are right? Who’ll be the first to laugh at this article following their nuclear destruction, hmmm? Boy, won’t I look stupid.



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    The Harsh Lessons of History: Faux Reports of Progress Against IS

    September 25, 2015 // 9 Comments »

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    (This article, written by me, originally appeared on Middle East Eye)

    Allegations that American military analysts may have “cooked the books” to skew intelligence assessments about the campaign against Islamic State (IS), providing a more optimistic account of progress, are a sign of bad things to come.

    Bad intel leads to bad decisions. Bad intel created purposefully suggests a war that is being lost, with the people in charge that loathe to admit it even as they continue to stumble forward, ever-more blind. And if that sounds like America’s previous war in Iraq, or its earlier one in Vietnam, you are not wrong.

    A Pentagon Inspector General’s investigation into allegations of overly optimistic intelligence reporting, first reported in the New York Times, began after at least one Defence Intelligence Agency analyst claimed officials overseeing the war against Islamic State were improperly reworking the assessments prepared for senior policy makers. The focus is on whether military officials changed the conclusions of draft intelligence assessments during a review process and then passed them on.

    Intelligence typically involves working with incomplete data (one analyst likens the process to turning over a small subset of rocks in a large field) to assess the present situation and then to predict the future.

    Anyone who claims to be certain about the future is more likely to be a fortune teller than a professional analyst, and so it is quite reasonable and common for a group of honest, well-meaning people to assess a data set and come to different conclusions. To be of value, however, legitimate differences of opinion must be played off one another in a non-politicised, intellectually vigorous check-and-balance fashion, as enshrined in Intelligence Community Directive 203.

    There is a wide gap between that, and what it appears the inspector general is now looking into.

    We can assume, arguendo, the inspector general knows a legitimate difference of opinion when he sees one, can easily rule out a sloppy supervisor, or spot a mid-level official rewriting things to pump up his own credentials. Investigations of the level leaked to the New York Times are not needed to deal with such situations. What appears to be under the microscope is whether or not the intelligence assessments headed to senior policy makers are purposely inaccurate.

    Cooking the intel has a sordid history in the annals of American warfare.

    Former CIA analyst Paul Pillar described the process in a postmortem on the 2003 Iraq intelligence failures, noting “Intelligence analysts and their managers knew that the United States was heading for war with Iraq. It was clear that the Bush administration would frown on or ignore analysis that called into question a decision to go to war and welcome analysis that supported such a decision.”

    Those factors led directly to the flawed if not outright fraudulent 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) supporting the narrative of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The NIE was used by the White House to press Congress into supporting war, and by Colin Powell to do the same at the United Nations. The so-called Downing Street Memo bluntly stated “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”.

    Analysis during the Vietnam War also pushed forward a steady but false narrative of victory. Former CIA and US Army analyst Patrick Eddington notes analysts’ conclusions that the US would be unlikely to ever defeat North Vietnamese forces were repeatedly overruled by commanders certain the United States was winning. He cites a complex inter-agency process of manipulating data to match the needs of General William Westmoreland’s narrative that enemy morale and military structure were deteriorating.

    The CIA’s Paul Pillar again, stresses the difficulties of dissent, and speaking of truth to power: “You’re part of a large structure that does have a vested interest in portraying the overall mission as going well.” Compare that to what any journalist, graduate student or successful businessperson should be able to tell you, that information must drive conclusions, not the inverse. The more complex the problem, the higher the quality of information needed to successfully solve it.

    The situation with Islamic State is more complex than that faced by the United States in Iraq over a decade ago, or in Vietnam before that. IS is a trans-state, loosely-organised fighting force, whose defeat requires the United States to stitch together a collection of strange bedfellows, each with their own agendas, in hopes the sum will add up to victory.

    The Iranians support Iraq’s Shiite militias against IS, but not Iraq’s Sunni forces. Turkey is prepared to wage war only in equal dollops against America’s opponents IS, and America’s allies the Kurds. The Kurds themselves fight well in their own territories but are loathe to strike elsewhere in Iraq. Creating a unified strategy out of all that demands hard, objective reporting and courageous analysis.


    There are three positions on why the military might not be providing that courageous analysis, and instead substituting a more positive spin on events.

    The first is basic bureaucratic cover – saying things are going well is a neat way of telling the boss that the military is doing the job they were sent to do, a self-administered pat on the back. Such thinking should never be easily discarded. However, higher-ups in the military chain of command will eventually look askance at such tactics, fearful of blow-back if events on the battlefield turn sour.

    The second is of more concern. Imagine a scenario where the president is rejecting advice from his generals to continue the war against IS, and wants to tamp down the level of American involvement (as some say Kennedy wished to do in Vietnam before his assassination). The president pushes back, saying nothing has worked, that ongoing failure comes at great cost. A military that wishes to stay engaged, again, as in Vietnam, might want to create the appearance that current levels of involvement are good, and thus increased involvement will be even better.

    But it is the third position, reporting only the good news senior policy makers signal they want to hear, that history suggests is the dominant reason.


    If American military intelligence insists on pushing false narratives of progress up the chain of command, that strongly suggests someone higher up, afraid of the ground truth, is happy to receive only the palliative of good news. And that is bad news. The lessons of modern history make clear that misleading policy makers who themselves seek to be misled can only yield disastrous consequences.



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    Florida Man Arrested in FBI/ISIS-Inspired Plot to Bomb a Beach

    August 21, 2015 // 18 Comments »

    WPTV-Harlem-Suarez_1438112209144_22068991_ver1.0_640_480


    So you be the judge: which organization, the FBI or ISIS, had more to do with this supposed “threat” to Das Homeland?


    The FBI has arrested a man who allegedly wanted to detonate a bomb in what authorities describe as an ISIS-inspired terror attack, officials said.

    Harlem Suarez, 23, of Key West, Florida, (pictured, and do note the Batman T-shirt) has been charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction in the United States.

    So Terrorist Suarez first came onto the FBI’s radar in April, after he posted whatever “extremist rhetoric” and pro-ISIS messages are on Facebook, according to the Justice Department. Facebook, yep, everything people post on Facebook is serious sh*t, man, no boasting or false bravado online, ever. Everybody always means exactly what they say.

    Anyway, after creeping Suarez on Facebook, the FBI then sent in an FBI-employed “confidential source” who for months allegedly talked with Suarez online and in person about plans to attack the United States. Not that any of that would have encouraged or emboldened someone whose previous plans would have otherwise never left his bedroom.

    In May, according to the FBI, Suarez recorded his own video, declaring: “We will destroy America and divide it into two. We will raise our black flag on top of your White House and any president on duty.”

    Nice touch– “any president on duty.” Man, Suarez was obviously well-informed.

    The FBI said that in subsequent meetings with the FBI informant, Suarez discussed plans for an attack around the July 4 holiday and said he would “cook American in cages” — an apparent reference to the ISIS video of a captured Jordanian pilot being burned alive while in a cage.

    Last week, Suarez allegedly gave the informant two boxes of nails, a cell phone, a backpack and $100 to build a bomb. In the most recent discussions, Suarez talked about bombing a public beach in Key West and placing explosive devices under police cars, according to charging documents filed by the FBI.

    Note that without some actual explosive material and the knowledge to build a bomb without first blowing yourself up (yeah, yeah, it’s all online, but so is a lot of stuff. Reading stuff online and actually safely handling explosives and ensuring they work remotely is a whole ‘nother story.) In case you wish to experiment, here are instructions for making a nuclear weapon.

    And seriously, a backpack bomb, is that really a weapon of mass destruction?

    Also note that at no point was anyone in America in danger in any way whatsoever.

    “There is no room for failure when it comes to investigating the potential use of a weapon of mass destruction,” said Special Agent in Charge George Piro, head of the FBI’s Miami Field Office.



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    War Against Islamic State to Last 20 More Years

    July 29, 2015 // 8 Comments »

    odierno

    General Ray Odierno, the Army’s most senior leader as Chief of Staff, told reporters the fight against Islamic State (IS) will last “10 to 20 years.”

    That means if we take the General at his word, some of the American soldiers who will be fighting IS two decades from now haven’t even been born yet.


    Just a Bit Longer Than Expected

    “In my mind, ISIS is a ten to twenty year problem, it’s not a two year problem,” Odierno said. “Now, I don’t know what level it will be a problem, but it’s a long term problem.” Odierno is pictured above, when he was the commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq, a war which he did not help to win and a war which birthed IS right under America’s nose.

    “The Obama administration has said ‘three to five’ years. I think in order to defeat IS, it’s going to take longer than that,” Odierno said. “This movement is growing right now, and so I think it’s going to take us a bit longer than we originally thought.”

    Apparently in Odierno’s world, “a bit longer” can mean 15 additional years of conflict.


    But Maybe, Sort Of, Possibly, Someone Else will Fight IS for Us

    But don’t worry, the Army isn’t going to win the fight against IS any more than it won the fight in Iraq, or Afghanistan. See, it is not really their job. Odierno again:

    “To defeat IS is not just a military issue. It is an economic issue. It is a diplomatic issue. It is an issue of moderate versus extremists and it is about also, potentially, having the capability to root them out of the places they now hold in Iraq and Syria. Others should do this. I believe the nations in the Middle East need to solve this problem. We should be helping them to solve this problem.”

    Apparently word on how Odierno and the United States are not going to win the war has not yet filtered down to the nations of the Middle East.

    About a year ago, the U.S. formed a make-believe coalition of 62 nations to fight IS. Where are they all now? The U.S. conducts 85 percent of all air strikes against IS, with most of the rest handled by western allies like Canada, France and the UK. None of the Arab ground troops expected ever showed up.

    So far the only two Middle Eastern entities robustly fighting IS are Shiite militias under the control of Iran, and Iran. Neither is particularly interested in American-style goals; their focus is on eliminating a Sunni armed presence in Iraq, including IS, to secure that country as a client state for Tehran. One of those “with friends like these, who needs enemies?” types of situation.

    There have been even fewer takers for the American request to fight IS in Syria. Or in Yemen, Libya and everywhere else IS is making inroads in the wake of clumsy American policy.

    I’ll check back in on the situation after another two decades or so has passed, and update this article.




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    Jihadist 17-Year-Old Faces Prison for Tweets about Encryption and Bitcoin

    July 17, 2015 // 2 Comments »

    ISIS-Using-Bitcoin

    In the next release of statistics from the FBI and DHS about how many terrorist plot they have foiled, remember this one is included.

    A 17-year-old Virginia teen, Ali Shukri Amin, faces up to 15 years in prison for contributing to Coin Brief and for Tweets about encryption and Bitcoin. He recently pleaded guilty to providing material support to Islamic State for all that. Amin was a high school honors student in suburban Virginia until his arrest.

    Dana Boente, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said the youth’s guilty plea “demonstrates that those who use social media as a tool to provide support and resources to ISIL will be identified and prosecuted with no less vigilance than those who travel to take up arms with ISIL.”

    According to the defendant’s signed “Admission of Facts,”, Amin joined Twitter last June and acquired some 4,000 followers and tweeted about 7,000 times.


    His Crimes

    Here’s what, according to Amin’s court documents, landed him in prison:

    — An article he wrote explained what Bitcoins were, how the Bitcoin system worked and suggested using a new Bitcoin wallet, which keeps the user of Bitcoins anonymous. The article included statements on how to set up an anonymous donations system to send money, using Bitcoin, to the mujahedeen.

    — Amin tweeted that IS needed an official website and that IS should stop releasing propaganda “in the wild” and instead should consider using JustPaste.it.

    — Also also Tweeted this link about Bitcoin.

    — According to the government, Amin, “Through various tweets, provided information on how to prevent a website from being taken down, by adding security defenses, and he solicited others via Twitter to assist on the development of the website.”

    — On his blog, Amin “authored a series of highly technical articles targeted at aspiring jihadists and ISIL supporters detailing the use of security measures in online communications to include the use of encryption and anonymity software, tools and techniques, as well as the use of the virtual currency Bitcoin as a means to anonymously fund ISIL.”

    Amin, who apparently never left his suburban home, is also accused of “radicalizing” an 18-year-old Virginia youth who later traveled to Syria. Amin admitted that he helped the boy get a mobile phone, assisted him with travel, gave him a ride to the airport in his parents’ car and pointed him generally to where he would find IS supporters in Turkey.


    Let’s Be Afraid

    Critical to understanding how terrifying this arrest and prosecution are is understanding that Amin is going to jail not for what he wrote, but to whom he wrote to and, apparently, what he was thinking when he wrote it.

    In other words, information, some of it amazingly technical, is splattered all over the web about Bitcoin, security, encryption and the other topics the high school kid wrote about. The processes are the same whether the money is going to your cool Kickstarter indie band project, or to Islamic State. Amin did not add anything special to the huge pile of info out there.

    Instead, he was busted because he Tweeted and blogged openly in the direction of Islamic State. He was thinking nice thoughts about IS while doing it. There is no indication that IS asked him to do this, or responded to him, or even acted on any information he posted.

    It is worth noting that IS, like you, could Google “Bitcoin” or any other of Amin’s subjects and read as much material as they wished. In such a case, would those websites also have some culpability toward supporting terrorism?

    The limited assistance to the other boy in traveling notwithstanding, Amin seems to be headed to Federal prison for a thought crime tied up in violations of his First Amendment rights.

    Keep that in mind before you blog, Tweet, update your Facebook or click on some of the links above, because the Feds are watching.




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    FBI, DHS Now Zero for 40 at Predicting Terror Attacks

    July 9, 2015 // 2 Comments »

    TerrorAlert

    Did you make it through the July 4th weekend alive? No ISIS attacks? I drank 78 Red Bulls to stay alert and maintain constant vigilance in my backyard, after fearing ISIS chatter was singling me out for retribution. I lived to write this.

    Were you scared about the full week’s worth of warnings from the FBI, DHS and their spokespersons at CNN, FOX and other media outlets?

    You shouldn’t have been. Website Fair.org chronicles almost 15 years of fear-mongering via warnings that meant nothing. Their list is just below. However, first, it is worth noting that real terror things, such as the failed by being too dumb to set off a bomb Times Square bomber, the failed by being too dumb to set off a bomb “Underwear bomber,” and the killed (OK, sadly) all of three people Boston bombing were accompanied by no such government warnings. Not a word about the deadlier terrorist attacks by right-wing white supremacist terrorists.

    Here’s the full list of the government’s 0 for 40 warning record:

    October 2001: “Potential use of chemical/biological and/or radiological/nuclear weapons“
    November 2001: California bridges
    February 2002: “Hollywood studios”
    May 2002: Statue of Liberty
    June 2002: “Around the Fourth of July holiday”
    July 2002: Stadiums
    August 2002: “Landmarks”
    October 2002: “AQ to attack Amtrak”
    November 2002: “Spectacular Al Qaeda attacks”
    February 2003: “Apartments, hotels, sports arenas and amusement parks“
    May 2003: “Possibility of multiple attacks”
    May 2004: “Attempt to affect the outcome” of presidential election
    July 2004: “Military facilities and large gatherings” on July 4th
    August 2004: VA hospitals
    January 2005: Dirty bomb
    March 2005: US/Mexican border
    October 2005: NYC & Baltimore subways
    March 2006: “Sporting events”
    June 2007: Colleges
    December 2007: “Shopping malls in Chicago and LA”
    November 2008: “Al Qaeda to attack transit during Thanksgiving”
    November 2010: Mass transit in New York City
    October 2011: “Americans in Europe” facing “commando-style AQ attack”
    February 2011: “Financial institutions”
    May 2011: “Threats of retaliation”
    June 2011: Al Qaeda “hit list”
    July 2011: “Private jets of executives” involved in drone manufacturing
    September 2011: “Small planes”
    September 2011: “New York City or Washington around…10th anniversary of 9/11”
    September 2011: Airports
    March 2012: “Terrorist hacking”
    August 2012: Anarchists blowing up bridge during Tampa RNC
    September 2012: “Islamic violence over movie”
    August 2013: “San Francisco on high alert”
    November 2013: “cyber attacks”
    April 2014: “College students abroad”
    December 2014: ISIS targeting Mississippi River bridge
    December 2014: ISIS “sabotaging US military personnel” over social media
    April 2015: ISIS targeting “parts of California”
    May 2015: ISIS targeting “military bases”
    July 2015: ISIS targeting July 4

    Sleep tight America, knowing rough men stand ready on those walls to try and scare you into obedience.




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    Five (More) Things That Won’t Work in Iraq

    July 1, 2015 // 16 Comments »

    iraq valentine


    In one form or another, the U.S. has been at war with Iraq since 1990, including a sort-of invasion in 1991 and a full-scale one in 2003.

    During that quarter-century, Washington imposed several changes of government, spent trillions of dollars, and was involved in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. None of those efforts were a success by any conceivable definition of the term Washington has been capable of offering.

    Nonetheless, it’s the American Way to believe with all our hearts that every problem is ours to solve and every problem must have a solution, which simply must be found. As a result, the indispensable nation faces a new round of calls for ideas on what “we” should do next in Iraq.

    With that in mind, here are five possible “strategies” for that country on which only one thing is guaranteed: none of them will work.


    1. Send in the Trainers

    In May, in the wake of the fall of the Sunni city of Ramadi to Islamic State (IS) fighters, President Obama announced a change of course in Iraq. After less than a year of not defeating, degrading, or destroying the Islamic State, the administration will now send in hundreds more military personnel to set up a new training base at Taqaddum in Anbar Province. There are already five training sites running in Iraq, staffed by most of the 3,100 military personnel the Obama administration has sent in. Yet after nine months of work, not a single trained Iraqi trooper has managed to make it into a combat situation in a country embroiled in armed chaos.

    The base at Taqaddum may only represent the beginning of a new “surge.” General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has begun to talk up what he calls “lily pads,” American baselets set up close to the front lines, from which trainers would work with Iraqi security forces. Of course, such lily pads will require hundreds more American military advisers to serve as flies, waiting for a hungry Islamic State frog.

    Leaving aside the all-too-obvious joke — that Dempsey is proposing the creation of a literal swamp, a desert quagmire of the lilypad sort — this idea has been tried. It failed over the eight years of the occupation of Iraq, when the U.S. maintained an archipelago of 505 bases in the country. (It also failed in Afghanistan.) At the peak of Iraq War 2.0, 166,000 troops staffed those American bases, conducting some $25 billion worth of training and arming of Iraqis, the non-results of which are on display daily. The question then is: How could more American trainers accomplish in a shorter period of time what so many failed to do over so many years?

    There is also the American belief that if you offer it, they will come. The results of American training so far, as Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter made clear recently, have fallen far short of expectations. By now, U.S. trainers were to have whipped 24,000 Iraqi soldiers into shape. The actual number to date is claimed to be some 9,000 and the description of a recent “graduation” ceremony for some of them couldn’t have been more dispiriting. (“The volunteers seemed to range in age from late teens to close to 60.” Given how much training the U.S. has made available in Iraq since 2003, it’s hard to imagine that too many young men have not given the option some thought. Simply because Washington opens more training camps, there is no reason to assume that Iraqis will show up.

    Oddly enough, just before announcing his new policy, President Obama seemed to pre-agree with critics that it wasn’t likely to work. “We’ve got more training capacity than we’ve got recruits,” he said at the close of the G7 summit in Germany. “It’s not happening as fast as it needs to.” Obama was on the mark. At the al-Asad training facility, the only one in Sunni territory, for instance, the Iraqi government has not sent a single new recruit to be trained by those American advisers for the past six weeks.

    And here’s some bonus information: for each U.S. soldier in Iraq, there are already two American contractors. Currently some 6,300 of them are in the country. Any additional trainers mean yet more contractors, ensuring that the U.S. “footprint” made by this no-boots-on-the-ground strategy will only grow and General Dempsey’s lilypad quagmire will come closer to realization.


    2. Boots on the Ground

    Senator John McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, is the most vocal proponent of America’s classic national security go-to move: send in U.S. troops. McCain, who witnessed the Vietnam War unfold, knows better than to expect Special Forces operatives, trainers, advisers, and combat air traffic controllers, along with U.S. air power, to turn the tide of any strategic situation. His response is to call for more — and he’s not alone. On the campaign trail recently, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, for instance, suggested that, were he president, he would consider a full-scale “re-invasion” of Iraq. Similarly, General Anthony Zinni, former head of U.S. Central Command, urged the sending in of many boots: “I can tell you, you could put ground forces on the ground now and we can destroy ISIS.”

    Among the boots-on-the-ground crowd are also some former soldiers who fought in Iraq in the Bush years, lost friends, and suffered themselves. Blinking through the disillusion of it all, they prefer to believe that we actually won in Iraq (or should have, or would have, if only the Bush and Obama administrations hadn’t squandered the “victory”). Needed now, they claim, are more U.S. troops back on the ground to win the latest version of their war. Some are even volunteering as private citizens to continue the fight. Can there be a sadder argument than the “it can’t all have been a waste” one?

    The more-troops option is so easy to dismiss it’s hardly worth another line: if over eight years of effort, 166,000 troops and the full weight of American military power couldn’t do the trick in Iraq, what could you possibly expect even fewer resources to accomplish?


    3. Partnering with Iran

    As hesitancy within the U.S. military to deploy ground forces in Iraq runs into chicken-hawk drum-pounding in the political arena, working ever more closely with Iran has become the default escalation move. If not American boots, that is, what about Iranian boots?

    The backstory for this approach is as odd a Middle Eastern tale as you can find.

    The original Obama administration plan was to use Arab, not Iranian, forces as proxy infantry. However, the much-ballyhooed 60-nation pan-Arab coalition proved little more than a short-lived photo op. Few, if any, of their planes are in the air anymore. America flies roughly 85% of all missions against Islamic State targets, with Western allies filling in a good part of the rest. No Arab ground troops ever showed up and key coalition countries are now openly snubbing Washington over its possible nuclear deal with Iran.

    Washington has, of course, been in a Cold War-ish relationship with Iran since 1979 when the Shah fell and radical students took over the American Embassy in Tehran. In the 1980s, the U.S. aided Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran, while in the years after the invasion of 2003 Iran effectively supported Iraqi Shiite militias against American forces occupying the country. Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, currently directing his country’s efforts in Iraq, was once one of the most wanted men on America’s kill list.

    In the wake of the 2014 Islamic State capture of Mosul and other northern Iraqi cities, Iran ramped up its role, sending in trainers, advisers, arms, and its own forces to support the Shiite militias that Baghdad saw as its only hope. The U.S. initially turned a blind eye on all this, even as Iranian-led militias, and possibly the Iranians themselves, became consumers of close American air support.

    In Washington right now, there is a growing, if quiet, acknowledgment that Iranian help is one of the few things that might push IS back without the need for U.S. ground troops. Small but telling escalations are occurring regularly. In the battle to retake the northern Sunni city of Tikrit, for example, the United States flew air missions supporting Shiite militias; the fig leaf of an explanation: that they operated under Iraqi government, not Iranian, control.

    “We’re going to provide air cover to all forces that are under the command and control of the government of Iraq,” a U.S. Central Command spokesperson similarly noted in reference to the coming fight to retake the city of Ramadi. That signals a significant shift, former State Department official Ramzy Mardini points out. “The U.S. has effectively changed its position, coming to the realization that Shiite militias are a necessary evil in the fight against IS.” Such thinking may extend to Iranian ground troops now evidently fighting outside the strategic Beiji oil refinery.

    Things may be even cozier between the U.S. and the Iranian-backed Shiite militias than we previously thought. Bloomberg reports that U.S. soldiers and Shiite militia groups are both already using the Taqaddum military base, the very place where President Obama is sending the latest 450 U.S. military personnel.

    The downside? Help to Iran only sets up the next struggle the U.S. is likely to bumble into due to a growing Iranian hegemony in the region. Syria, perhaps?


    4. Arm the Kurds

    The Kurds represent Washington’s Great Hope for Iraq, a dream that plays perfectly into an American foreign policy trope about needing to be “liked” by someone. (Try Facebook.) These days, glance at just about any conservative website or check out right-wing pundits and enjoy the propaganda about the Kurds: they are plucky fighters, loyal to America, tough bastards who know how to stand and deliver. If only we gave them more weapons, they would kill more Islamic State bad guys just for us. To the right-wing crowd, they are the twenty-first-century equivalent of Winston Churchill in World War II, crying out, “Just give us the tools and we’ll defeat Hitler!”

    There is some slight truth in all this. The Kurds have indeed done a good job of pushing IS militants out of swaths of northern Iraq and were happy for U.S. assistance in getting their Peshmerga fighters to the Turkish border when the locus of fighting was the city of Kobane. They remain thankful for the continuing air support the U.S. is providing their front-line troops and for the limited weapons Washington has already sent.

    For Washington, the problem is that Kurdish interests are distinctly limited when it comes to fighting Islamic State forces. When the de facto borders of Kurdistan were directly threatened, they fought like caffeinated badgers. When the chance to seize the disputed town of Erbil came up — the government in Baghdad was eager to keep it within its sphere of control — the Kurds beat the breath out of IS.

    But when it comes to the Sunni population, the Kurds don’t give a hoot, as long as they stay away from Kurdistan. Has anyone seen Kurdish fighters in Ramadi or anywhere else in heavily Sunni al-Anbar Province? Those strategic areas, now held by the Islamic State, are hundreds of actual miles and millions of political miles from Kurdistan. So, sure, arm the Kurds. But don’t expect them to play a strategic role against IS outside their own neighborhood. A winning strategy for the Kurds involving Washington doesn’t necessarily translate into a winning strategy for Washington in Iraq.


    5. That Political Solution

    Washington’s current man in Baghdad, Prime Minister al-Abadi, hasn’t moved his country any closer to Sunni-Shiite reconciliation than his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, did. In fact, because Abadi has little choice but to rely on those Shiite militias, which will fight when his corrupt, inept army won’t, he has only drawn closer to Iran. This has ensured that any (American) hope of bringing Sunnis into the process in a meaningful way as part of a unified government in a unified state will prove to be a pipe dream.

    A balance of forces is a prerequisite for a Shiite-Sunni-Kurdish federal Iraq. With no side strong enough to achieve victory or weak enough to lose, negotiations could follow. When then-Senator Joe Biden first proposed the idea of a three-state Iraq in 2006, it just might have been possible. However, once the Iranians had built a Shiite Iraqi client state in Baghdad and then, in 2014, unleashed the militias as an instrument of national power, that chance was lost.

    Many Sunnis see no other choice but to support the Islamic State, as they did al-Qaeda in Iraq in the years after the American invasion of 2003. They fear those Shiite militias — and with good reason. Stories from the largely Sunni city of Tikrit, where militia-led forces defeated Islamic State fighters, describe “a ghost town ruled by gunmen.” In the Euphrates Valley town of Jurf al-Sakhar, there were reports of ethnic cleansing. Similarly, the mainly Sunni population of the city of Nukhayb, which sits at a strategic crossroad between Sunni and Shiite areas, has accused the militias of taking over while pretending to fight the extremists.

    There remains great fear in Sunni-dominated Anbar of massacres and “cleansing” if Shiite militias enter the province in force. In such a situation, there will always be a place for an al-Qaeda, an Islamic State, or some similar movement, no matter how brutal, to defend the beleaguered Sunni population. What everyone in Iraq understands, and apparently almost everyone in America does not, is that the Islamic State is a symptom of civil war, not a standalone threat.

    One lingering hope of the Obama administration has no support in Baghdad and so has remained a non-starter: defeating IS by arming Sunni tribes directly in the style of the “Anbar Awakening” movement of the occupation years. Indeed, the central government fears arming them, absent a few token units to keep the Americans quiet. The Shiites know better than most what an insurgency can do to help defeat a larger, better-armed, power.

    Yet despite the risk of escalating Iraq’s shadow civil war, the U.S. now is moving to directly arm the Sunnis. Current plans are to import weapons into the newest lilypad base in Anbar and pass them on to local Sunni tribes, whether Baghdad likes that or not (and yes, the break with Baghdad is worth noting). The weapons themselves are as likely to be wielded against Shiite militias as against the Islamic State, assuming they aren’t just handed over to IS fighters.

    The loss of equipment to those militants is no small thing. No one talking about sending more new weaponry to Iraq, no matter who the recipient is, should ignore the ease with which Islamic State militants have taken U.S.-supplied heavy weapons. Washington has been forced to direct air strikes against such captured equipment — even as it ships yet more in. In Mosul, some 2,300 Humvees were abandoned to IS fighters in June 2014; more were left to them when Iraqi army forces suddenly fled Ramadi in May. This pattern of supply, capture, and resupply would be comically absurd, had it not turned tragic when some of those Humvees were used by IS as rolling, armored suicide bombs and Washington had to rush AT-4 anti-tank missiles to the Iraqi army to destroy them.


    The Real Reason Nothing Is Going to Work

    The fundamental problem underlying nearly every facet of U.S. policy toward Iraq is that “success,” as defined in Washington, requires all the players to act against their own wills, motivations, and goals in order to achieve U.S. aims. The Sunnis need a protector as they struggle for a political place, if not basic survival, in some new type of Iraq. The Shiite government in Baghdad seeks to conquer and control the Sunni regions. Iran wants to secure Iraq as a client state and use it for easier access to Syria. The Kurds want an independent homeland.

    When Secretary of Defense Ash Carter remarked, “What apparently happened [in Ramadi] was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” what he really meant was that the many flavors of forces in Iraq showed no will to fight for America’s goals. In the Washington mind-set, Iraq is charged with ultimate responsibility for resolving problems that were either created by or exacerbated by the U.S. in the first place, even as America once again assumes an ever-greater role in that country’s increasingly grim fate.

    For America’s “plan” to work, Sunni tribesmen would have to fight Sunnis from the Islamic State in support of a Shiite government that suppressed their peaceful Arab-Spring-style protests, and that, backed by Iran, has been ostracizing, harassing, and murdering them. The Kurds would have to fight for an Iraqi nation-state from which they wish to be independent. It can’t work.

    Go back to 2011 and it’s unlikely anyone could have imagined that the same guy who defeated Hillary Clinton and gained the White House based on his opposition to the last Iraq War would send the U.S. tumbling back into that chaotic country. If ever there was an avoidable American crisis, Iraq War 3.0 is it. If ever there was a war, whatever its chosen strategies, in which the U.S. has no hopes of achieving its goals, this is it.

    By now, you’re undoubtedly shaking your head and asking, “How did this happen?” Historians will do the same.




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    State Department Lamely Markets Anti-IS Messages to Millennials

    June 29, 2015 // 11 Comments »

    just_say_no_isis_terrorism_shirt

    I know a fair number of State Department employees peak at this blog, so I have a favor to ask.

    Would someone please tell the “social media gurus” at the State Department young people join Islamic State for a number of very serious and often deeply-held reasons — religion, disillusionment with the west, anger at American policy — and not because they saw an IS tweet? And that you can’t dissuade people from their beliefs simply with a clever hashtag and 140 characters of propaganda pablum?

    Yet the idea that the State Department can use social media to “counter program” IS’ message persists, even as its uselessness stares everyone but the State Department in the face.

    A Little Background on YouTube

    The State Department’s propaganda uses a negative message to try and counter the attraction of Islamic State. Started in 2011, State’s blather was only in foreign languages, moving into English in 2013. In 2014 year the work started showing up on YouTube. The theme then was “Think Again, Turn Away; the messaging was found on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and even on the sides of buses in New York City as posters. One YouTube video includes subtitles such as “learn useful skills, such as blowing up mosques” and “crucifying Muslims.” Another features oil being poured on the ground framed as “squandering public resources.

    The content is seemingly written more to appeal to Washington than potential jihadis, as you can see in this example. A lot of the messaging mocks potential recruits, claiming, for example, they read “Islam for Dummies” before heading to Syria. Those efforts cost between $5 million and $6.8 million a year.

    When in Doubt, Hire a Consultant

    With the clear failure of that messaging to stop the flow of western recruits to IS (State does like to point to proving the negative, suggesting they cannot measure people who did not join), the State Department is now trying a new version of the old strategy.

    EdVenture Partners, a company whose self-described mission is to connect clients with the “valuable and powerful millennial market” to sell junk to dumbasses, was hired to enlist student teams to combat violent extremism with some kind of digital effort — an app, a website or an online initiative. It was to be a contest; State would pick the winners and fund those as U.S. government propaganda, er, counter messaging.

    Because, see, up until now, the problem has been that those dang young people just weren’t “getting down” with the messages old people at State were “putting out there.” For real. Ya’all.

    “Millennials can speak better to millennials, there’s no question about that,” State Department Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Kelly Keiderling, who was a judge in the competition, said, sounding like some 1950s educational film narrator.


    How to Defeat Islamic State

    So here’s how the young will be stopping other youngsters from joining Islamic State.

    — Australia’s Curtin University developed an app called 52Jumaa, which to support young Muslims. The app sends daily positive affirmations about Islam to users’ smartphones, allows them to connect with other Muslims and asks them to complete a selfless act of kindness every Friday.

    — Students at Texas A&M came up with a website idea called The Funny Militant, which would run jihadi-centric parodies, including a hilarious app for finding a jihadi bride and one called Who’s Your Bagdaddy?

    — Missouri State’s product, which won the competition, is a website about the dangers of violent extremism. The site provides English-language curriculum for teaching about the extreme ideological ideas on social media and how to recognize them. It also includes trivia, community boards and videos from people who have been directly affected by terrorism.

    Wait — the winner sounds almost exactly like the lame stuff the State Department already spews out, basically saying “IS is bad, so don’t do that,” the war on terror’s reboot of the 1980s anti-drug message “Just Say No.” The winning group also created a hashtag, so you know they are like super-serious: #EndViolentExtremism

    Here are all the winners of the competition. Looks can obviously be deceiving, but one does wonder how many Muslims are in a group seeking to speak directly to Muslims in a voice that doesn’t sound like a bunch of know-it-all white kids from the ‘burbs:





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    Iraq Lost 2,300 Humvees (and More!) to IS in Mosul Alone

    June 8, 2015 // 16 Comments »

    abadi


    See, this is why the Iraqis just can’t have nice things.

    Iraqi security forces lost 2,300 Humvee armored vehicles when the Islamic State jihadist group overran the northern city of Mosul, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Sunday.

    U.S. Weapons Already Lost to Islamic State

    Iraqi forces have previously abandoned significant types and number of heavy weapons Islamic State could not have otherwise acquired. For example, losses to IS include at least 40 M-1A1 main battle tanks. IS also picked up in Mosul and elsewhere American small arms and ammunition (including 4,000 machine guns that can fire upwards of 800 rounds per minute), and as many as 52 American M-198 howitzer mobile gun systems.

    “In the collapse of Mosul, we lost a lot of weapons,” Abadi said in an interview with Iraqiya state TV. Clashes began in Mosul, Iraq’s second city, late on June 9, 2014, and Iraqi forces lost it the following day to IS, less than 24 hours later.



    More U.S. Weapons on the Way

    To help replenish Iraq’s arms, last year the State Department approved a sale to Iraq of 1,000 Humvees with increased armor, machine guns, and grenade launchers. The U.S. is currently in the process of sending/has already sent to Iraq 175 M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks, 55,000 rounds of main gun ammunition for the tanks, $600 million in howitzers and trucks, and $700 million worth of Hellfire missiles.

    The United States has previously donated 250 MRAPs to Iraq, as well as $300 million in other weapons.

    Some $1.2 billion in future training funds for Iraq was tucked into an omnibus spending bill Congress passed earlier this year.

    For those keeping score, between 2003-2011, the United States spent $25 billion training the Iraqi Army. Some 3,000 American soldiers are currently in Iraq, re-training the Iraqi Army to re-fight Islamic State. The previously trained Iraqi army had 30,000 soldiers in Mosul, who ran away in the face of about 1,000 Islamic State fighters. The same thing happened in Ramadi, where 10,000 Iraqi soldiers fled ahead of 400 IS fighters.

    Could This Have Been Predicted?

    Professor of Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University Chris Coyne, in an interview with me about a year ago even before the U.S. again sent troops into Iraq, predicted this exact scenario:

    The U.S. government provided significant amounts of military hardware to the Iraqi government with the intention that it would be used for good (national security, policing, etc.). However, during the IS offensive many of the Iraqis turned and ran, leaving behind the U.S.-supplied hardware. This weapons windfall may further alter the dynamics in Syria.

    Now the U.S. government wants to provide more military supplies to the Iraqi government to combat IS. But I haven’t heard many people recognizing, let alone discussing, the potential negative unintended consequences of doing so. How do we know how the weapons and supplies will be used as desired? What if the recipients turn and run as they have recently and leave behind the weapons? What if the weapons are stolen? In sum, why should we have any confidence that supplying more military hardware into a country with a dysfunctional and ineffective government will lead to a good outcome either in Iraq or in the broader region?


    Impact on American Policy

    And hey: A report prepared for the United Nations Security Council warns IS possesses sufficient reserves of small arms, ammunition and vehicles to wage its war in Syria and Iraq for up to two more years. And that presumes the U.S. won’t be sending more to them.

    The United States remains the world’s largest exporter of weapons.



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    Hope for Iraq? Depends on What You’re Hoping For…

    May 31, 2015 // 11 Comments »

    iraq women2

    Is there hope for Iraq? It depends on what you are hoping for.

    It is becoming clearer that there is little hope of destroying Islamic State in Iraq. Islamic State has no shortage of new recruits. Its fighters capture heavy weapons with such ease that the United States is forced to direct air strikes against equipment abandoned by the Iraqis — even as it ships in more. Islamic State holds territory that will allow it to trade land for time, morph into an insurgency and preserve its forces by pulling back into Syrian territory it controls even if Iraq’s government, with Iranian and American help, launches a major assault.

    Islamic State maintains support among Iraq’s Sunnis. The more the Shi’ites align against it, the more Sunnis see no other choice but to support Islamic State, as they did al Qaeda after the American invasion in 2003. Stories from Tikrit, where Shi’ite militia-led forces defeated Islamic State, describe “a ghost town ruled by gunmen.” There are other reports of ethnic cleansing in the Euphrates Valley town of Jurf al-Sakhar. Absent a unified Iraq, there will always be an al Qaeda, an Islamic State or another iteration of it to defend the Sunnis.

    The only way for Iraq to remain unified was a stalemate of force, with no side having the might to win nor weak enough to lose, with negotiations to follow. As the United States passively watched the Iranians become its proxy boots on the ground against Islamic State, all the while knowing Tehran’s broader agenda was a Shi’ite Iraqi client, that possibility was lost.


    It’s possible to pin down the failure to a single battle. The last hope that Iraq would not become an Iranian client was dashed after Islamic State’s defeat in Tikrit. The victory triggered the Iraqi central government to dismiss American and Kurdish support for a drive toward strategically important Mosul. The government all but abandoned the idea of a nonsectarian national army; it turned instead to a gang of Iranian-supported Shi’ite militias with a bundle of anti-Sunni agendas. Baghdad pointed those forces toward Ramadi.

    Islamic State is also in Ramadi, but it had already poked into most of the city over the past year. It needed only 400 fighters for the final push last week. The threat was not new. The move by Baghdad on Ramadi is thus more long-term political than short-term tactical: think of Ramadi not as a gate through which Islamic State must pass moving east toward Baghdad (Islamic State cannot occupy the Shi’ite city of four million, defended by untold militia, any more than the German army could capture Stalingrad) but as a gate the Shi’ite militias must traverse headed west to control the Sunni homeland of Anbar.

    The Kurds, America’s great loyalist hope, were energetic fighters against Islamic State in the north, at least as long as their peshmerga was reclaiming territory — such as the city of Arbil — from the central government in Baghdad. The Kurds are nowhere to be seen now that fighting has shifted to Anbar. Kurdistan cares little about the Sunnis other than to keep them away from its territory. Baghdad, with Islamic State on its plate, under political pressure from Washington to keep the peace with the Kurds and facing a powerful peshmerga, is unlikely to make any near- to mid-term moves against Kurdistan.


    So, besides simply hoping for the best, what can the United States do? Not much. Most of the possible game changers have already failed.

    Ever more air power and raids by Special Operations forces cannot hold ground or do more than dilute Iranian influence in spots, assuming they are not actually assisting the Iranians. President Barack Obama has ruled out large numbers of U.S. ground forces. (Not that troops matter; the 166,000 U.S. troops deployed in Iraq at the surge’s peak failed to win anything lasting, and Obama’s final pullout in 2011 was numerically meaningless.) The training the United States is doing with the Iraqi Army in 2015 will accomplish about the same as the training the United States did with the Iraqi Army from 2005 to 2011. Even the U.S. secretary of defense was reduced to near-mockery when describing Iraq’s army in Ramadi; it lacked the will to fight, he said.

    America’s latest man in Baghdad, Prime Minister Hader al-Abadi, has no more moved his country toward any kind of reconciliation than his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, did. Abadi’s reliance on Shi’ite militias only draws him closer to Iran.

    Obama’s post-Ramadi hope is once again to try to attract and train an anti-Islamic State Sunni force. There’s no support for that idea in Baghdad itself. The central government fears arming domestic Sunnis, besides a few token “federal police” units. It seems unlikely the Sunnis will be fooled by another U.S.-sponsored “awakening,” like the one in 2006 that helped root out insurgents in Anbar province. Baghdad left the fighters without paychecks from — or meaningful representation in — the government. As America watched, Maliki’s failure to capitalize on the original awakening is a large part of why Iraq is falling apart now.

    The much-ballyhooed pan-Arab coalition against Islamic State proved to be a short-lived photo op. America flies roughly 85 percent of the missions against Islamic State, with Western allies filling in a good part of the remaining percentage. No Arab ground troops ever showed up, and key coalition countries are now openly snubbing Washington over its possible nuclear deal with Iran.

    The United States appears to have run out of hope any of its cards will play in the long game.

    Iraq’s Sunnis can, at best, hope to be pushed into an Islamic State-protected enclave on the fuzzy Syrian border, a development Washington would likely quietly support to avoid a politically embarrassing ethnic cleansing. Iraq would remain an Iranian client state, dependent on its patron to keep Islamic State in check. Iranian and Iraqi political needs would mostly be aligned at that point, though more Islamic State fighters nearer to Syria would pose its own problems. This would expose what might be the key flaw in American policy in Iraq: The people America thinks are its allies don’t actually want what America wants.


    The Iraq of 2003 is gone. The Iraq of 2014 is gone. America’s mistakes made in between have had consequences because, as everyone knows, hope alone is a poor strategy.




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    Terrorist Sleeper Cell Crushed by Pay Day Loan Debt (Satire)

    May 26, 2015 // 6 Comments »

    sleeper

    Islamic State (IS) announced that its primary terrorist sleeper cell in the United States has been crushed by payday loan debt. Homeland Security and the FBI, actively trying to convince several fourth graders to “make a terror club” so they could be arrested, were unavailable for comment.

    “It all began well enough,” said IS spokes-jihadi Abdullah. “We sent five brothers into the decadent hell of the United States with ten thousand dollars and some AK’s and rocket launchers.”

    “Sh*t started to go wrong from almost day one. It turns out 99 percent of Americans are much better armed, so right away they had to go to Walmart and pick up some assault rifles. Well, you know, you can’t just go into Walmart for one thing, and next you know, they laid out for Sam’s Club memberships and bought freaking patio furniture. We had them in a $20 a night motel with orders to keep a low profile and they show up with patio furniture.”

    “Next thing that happened was after I sent them out to buy some burner cellphones, you know, those cheap ones they could use once and then throw away. I don’t know what kind of salesperson they encountered at Best Buy, but next thing I know IS is on the hook for five iPhone6’s. Plus five year contracts. Plus those idiots bought the full maintenance plans. Oh, and get this — their contracts had limited data, so after a couple of 30 gig HD beheading video downloads, we were racking up overage charges.”

    “We had told the brothers to eat most meals at Chik-fil-A. We’d read online that the restaurant hated gays, independent women and most of the other tenets of Sharia, so that seemed safe. But next thing you know, two of the brothers are too fat for their suicide vests, and one now has diabetes. If he loses his foot like the doctor thinks, he can’t drive the suicide bomb van. Please.”

    “But the real killer was running out of funds. We lost thousands of dollars to ATM fees we did not anticipate, so we had some of the martyrs seek out part time work. Do you know it’s impossible to live on minimum wage in America? The best those dumbasses could do was work at the Dollar Store and Wendy’s, then their hours got cut. They had no choice but to turn to the payday loan shop in the same strip mall where they pawned the AK’s. It seemed like a good deal — money was deposited overnight to their checking account — but now we’re up to like 234 percent interest, and these two huge guys named Vito and Sal are knocking on the motel room door at 4 am demanding their money back.”

    “We just gave up. I have ordered the brothers to dismantle the sleeper cell. Now that we know what a useless, poor, rapacious society America is, thinking we can hasten its demise with a few terror acts is a joke. You people are doing it to yourselves.”




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    Paranoia in a September 12 World

    May 18, 2015 // 4 Comments »

    brazil

    It got me. Paranoia. Who is watching? What are the consequences in a September 12 world of things that used to be innocent?

    I began researching materials online that advise, in English, how someone might travel to Syria and join Islamic State (IS). Several media outlets mentioned an ebook IS created along those lines, but none linked to it or dove deep into what it said. I set out to find it, Googling away with “how to join Islamic State,” and “advice for jihadi travel.” I eventually found the ebook with the term “hijrah.” Used in canon to refer to Mohammad’s journey from Mecca to Medina, the word today colloquially refers to those who leave home for jihad.

    The ebook is brief, titled simply Hijrah to the Islamic State, some 50 pages with pictures and maps. The advice is mostly stuff you’d think people could figure out on their own. Bring a sturdy backpack, don’t tell Turkish immigration officials you are headed to Syria, don’t call attention to yourself in the airport, that sort of thing. There are a bunch of Twitter handles included so you can make contact with IS, but the few I checked were dead accounts.

    You could probably do better with Lonely Planet (which also advises travelers not to call attention to themselves, but to avoid being targeted by thieves, not anti-terror forces.) I found another site just for women seeking to join IS, assuring the traveler she’ll be in female-only accommodations and that they have diapers and baby stuff available. Otherwise, it was all about bringing books to read on the long trip and not forgetting needed medicines.

    I wrapped up my research with a quick buzz through Orbitz to see flight choices. New York was the default starting point because Orbitz had it already there from my previous searches. You can fly nonstop from the United States to Turkey, and then take a taxi to the Syrian border. Flights directly into Damascus involve a couple of stops, and most require you fly out of Newark. Jihad starts in Jersey, what a hassle.

    All in all, not much of story in the hijrah ebook, and certainly nothing at the they’re-seducing-our-kids-into-terrorism level, though New York Times called it “a remarkable ISIS travel guide” and authorities in the UK want to ban it from social media. The ebook is in reality near useless, except as another boogie man for westerners to point to.


    But I started to worry.

    Look at me: I Googled up a how-to manual for jihadis. I’d previously read al Qaeda’s Inspire magazine online (Islamic State has its own online magazine, and I read that too.) I looked into travel to Syria. I sought out a good translation of “hijrah.” Everything I did, I did from an office desk. It was all on the Internet, with no secret meetings in shadowy places. So it was OK, like going to the library, right?

    But I started to panic. How long until this reached critical mass, when some piece of software went “bing!” and some new protocol was applied to me? I have an international trip planned in a few weeks (plain vanilla Asia). Will I get selected for additional screening? Will I be questioned trying to exit or, later, when I re-enter the United States? Have I become paranoid? Should I be? Is it wise or stupid to worry about these things?

    I remember discussing the Jeffrey Sterling Espionage Act case, the case that at one point threatened to send reporter James Risen to jail for not revealing his sources. My friend said the case was probably one of the last of its kind. So the government learned its First Amendment lesson I asked? No, she said, next time the government won’t have to threaten a reporter; most reporters will either shy away from such stories, their editors will kill the reporting to avoid an expensive legal battle, or the government will already know who they talked to.

    I’m certain I am no James Risen. I’m pretty sure I didn’t write a more detailed story about the Islamic State travel guides because there was little to say, that the links I left out above were of little value. Google works at your house, too, if you really want to see them, and you’re not afraid of that, are you? The algorithms they — whoever they are — use are smart enough to see that I’m just a curious writer, and you’re just a curious reader, and none of us plans on joining IS, right?

    I still wrote a lawyer’s phone number in the back of my passport. Can’t be too careful these days, as people say. Threats are everywhere.




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    U.S. Drops Pink Floyd-Inspired, Anti-IS leaflet in Syria

    May 13, 2015 // 11 Comments »

    4 T


    You’d be forgiven if the anti-IS leaflet pictured below reminds you of images from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, you know, the whole meat grinder meets Ralph Steadman thing.

    This graphic, however, is part of America’s multi-billion dollar effort to defeat Islamic State, so it is not intended to be weirdly amusing, even though it is. Somehow, this is actually serious.

    An American F-15E pilot risked his life to drop 60,000 copies of the leaflet on Raqqa, Syria, the base of operations for the Islamic State. Al Jazeera’s translation says the image shows a “Daesh Employment Office” (Daesh is a pejorative nickname for IS in the Arab world, so nah nah poopy heads!) as two Floyd-esque IS recruiters feed young men into a meat grinder with “Daesh” written in blood on its side.




    When asked about the intended message of the leaflet, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren, said “If you allow yourself to be recruited by Daesh, you will find yourself in a meat grinder.” Warren said the leaflet was created by the Army’s Military Information Support Operations, formerly known as PSY-OPS.

    The theory of course was that some young man who is otherwise being bombed day and night by the U.S. and/or his own government and/or some rival militant group, will pick up the leaflet from among the other trash strewn all over the streets, glance at the whacky comic, and decide that instead of joining Islamic State he’ll, whatever, finally start in on that art history degree at community college his mom is always bugging him about.


    Surprisingly, some experts have questioned the efficacy of the leaflet.

    Faysal Itani, a Fellow at the Atlantic Center in Washington who studies the various groups fighting in Syria’s war, said anyone in Raqqa thinking of joining IS is either ideologically committed or coerced. “Members of the first category are likely immune to leaflet propaganda, especially if distributed by an air force that has been bombing Raqqa,” Itani said. The rest, he said, would join out of financial necessity, the need for protection, or because they were forced to do so.

    News Flash to America: Dying for Islamic State, that whole jihadi thingie, is kind of what most recruits expect.







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    Because, More War: Senators Introduce Legislation to Directly Provide Weapons to Kurds

    May 7, 2015 // 4 Comments »

    isis

    Because America does not have enough war in the Middle East at present, and because more American arms introduced into any situation always make things better, Senator Joni Ernst introduced on Wednesday legislation to provide arms directly to the Kurds in Iraq, ostensibly so they could fight Islamic State (IS).

    Cosponsors include Senators Barbara Boxer, Lindsey Graham, Ron Johnson, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio.

    A companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives and has some bipartisan support.

    The Current Situation

    For those who accidentally landed here thinking this was a Game of Thrones fan fiction site, a quick recap of what is going on with the Kurds, Iraq and IS.

    Prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the country’s three major ethnic/religious groups — the Sunni, Shia and Kurds — were held in rough togetherness by Saddam and his police state. The U.S. broke all that, but failed to replace the police state with a functioning nation state. Hilarity ensued, plus 13+ years of internecine violence.

    IS moved into Iraqi territory more or less on the side of the Sunnis in 2014. The Shia-led central government, supported and armed by the U.S. and Iran, along with the Kurds, went to war against IS.

    The U.S. likes the Kurds, because they are non-Arab Muslims and have supported the many U.S. interventions in Iraq over the years. The Iranians do not really care for the Kurds, as they fear Kurdish independence inside Iraq will enflame their own Kurd minority.

    The Kurds, who are essentially a de facto independent nation inside the rotting shell of “Iraq,” made common cause with the Shia’s against the threat of IS. The Kurds, however, have big plans for their own state, and are kept in check in part by the U.S.

    One tool for that is making sure (most of) their weapons flow through the central Shia government.



    Why This New Legislation is a Bad Idea

    Not supplying weapons directly to the Kurds is not much of a policy, but it is what Obama went to war with, and it is not altogether bad. A balance of power in Iraq serves American interests and gives the U.S. leverage over the Shias.

    The new Senate legislation will not likely pass, and even if it does, it will not force Obama to do anything. The actual on-the-ground policy toward the Kurds and their weapons is unlikely to change in the near-to-midterm. Only another collapse of Shia forces in the face of a new IS advance will alter policy.

    Still, the action by the Senate reveals how clueless some Senators are toward the complex reality on the ground in Iraq (the Democratic supporters) and how willing to play politics with global events some are (the Republicans, especially Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, both presidential contenders.)

    Just because we already know nothing good is going to come out of this latest Iraq War does not mean we still can’t find ways to make it even worse.

    I had the chance to talk about all this on RT.com (the announcer says I am in Baghdad, not true. I am happily thousands of miles away, in New York):




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