• R.I.P. Rex Tillerson

    March 19, 2018 // 17 Comments »




    For those who decried Rex Tillerson’s 14 month tenure as Secretary of State, those who wanted a more aggressive advocate in foreign affairs, those who wanted more of the empty slots filled at Foggy Bottom, be careful what you wish for. Because you now have Mike Pompeo.

    Rex Tillerson will not, as some claim, be remembered as the worst Secretary of State in history. He made no significant blunders or gaffes, gave away nothing to the determinant of the United States. He just didn’t do much at all.

    Understanding Tillerson’s place in history requires understanding the State Department is an agency without primary agency. Under Cold War administrations it focused on arms control. During the Bush and early Obama years, State was sent off to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan. Hillary Clinton switched the organization over to “soft power” programs. John Kerry started on Syria as a signature aim but ended up focused singularly on the Iran nuclear deal. Tillerson never articulated any goals for his organization beyond some verbiage about structural reform that will never again see daylight. Tillerson will more accurately be remembered not as the worst of secretaries, but as the most pointless.

    Tillerson never understood the traditional way of engaging State’s bureaucracy is for a new secretary to fill key positions with political appointees, who will task the rank and file below them. Tillerson left too many slots vacant too long, and found himself without allies inside Foggy Bottom as his relationship with Trump failed to gel. Left on their own, his diplomats found ways to make trouble for him, including leaking dissent memos on the administration’s approach to child soldiers and Trump’s executive orders banning travelers from some Muslim countries. Alongside all that, the media offered Tillerson no rest, proclaiming in near-apocalyptic terms the end of diplomacy, the dismantling of the State Department, and announcing with dulled regularity the loss of U.S. standing in the world.

    It’s kind of amazing in a way Tillerson lasted as long as he did, though the end was the kind of inglorious mess all too common now in Washington. Tillerson was caught flat-footed with the announcement of an impending summit with North Korea, and his clumsy attempt to sound relevant commenting only handed the media another chance to claim chaos in the administration. Tillerson made his remarks in the midst of a humiliating apology tour of Africa, where he was tasked to be the punching bag for leaders on the periphery of U.S. foreign policy angry over the president calling their nations sh*tholes.

    Tillerson, his Africa trip caught short denying him even the chance to lay a wreath at the memorial to victims of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, took a final shot at Trump on his way out the door, getting ahead of the more neutral White House statement by saying the nerve agent used to poison a Russian spy and his daughter in the UK “clearly came from Russia” and the episode “certainly will trigger a response.”

    Good times.


    But as the old saying warns, be careful what you wish for. Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State will be no Rex Tillerson.

    Pompeo is a West point grad, a Tea Party pro-war conservative, a three-time Congressman from Kansas elected to the House of Representatives in 2010 with the support of Charles and David Koch. He is remembered for grilling of Hillary Clinton over Benghazi. As a member of the House intelligence committee, he supported the NSA’s bulk data collection program and opposed shutting Guantanamo. He defended the CIA alongside the Senate torture report, declaring “These men and women are not torturers, they are patriots.”

    Among Pompeo’s most significant foreign policy stances is his long-standing opposition to the 2015 agreement among the U.S., Iran, and European and Asian powers that lifted economic sanctions in exchange for Tehran accepting curbs on its nuclear program. “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism,” Pompeo said during his CIA confirmation process. As head of the Department of State, which sees as one of its few Obama-era legacy successes that nuclear agreement, Pompeo will encounter diplomats who were displeased by the bland Tillerson repelled by him. Anybody expecting the rehabilitation of the State Department is in for a long wait. A toxic relationship with the rank and file? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

    But what his diplomats think of him may not matter to Pompeo. Unlike Tillerson, who as a stranger to Washington failed to understand the need to seed the bureaucracy with allies, Pompeo is likely to move quickly to insert people who mirror his ideological stances into the State Department. His ties with conservative organizations suggest he’ll have a pool of like-minded people to draw from, and his close relationship with Trump implies he won’t run into the resistance Tillerson often did in getting his choices blessed.

    While decisions on the Iran nuclear agreement hover in the near distance, Pompeo will find the impending summit among Trump, Kim Jong-un and South Korean president Moon Jae-in as item number one on his to-do list. Absent a bit of obligatory institutional defense of the CIA’s work on Russia, Pompeo has made a point of locking his public statements in line with Trump’s. Pompeo’s most recent comments on North Korea emphasize this: “We’ve gotten more than any previous administration — an agreement to not continue testing nuclear weapons and their missile program, the things that would put them capable of getting across the threshold… at the same time [Kim] has agreed to have a conversation about denuclearization.”

    Pompeo will however need to walk back earlier remarks hinting at regime change in North Korea. Security is Kim Jong-un’s primary goal for negotiations with the U.S., and a guarantee of his own position will be non-negotiable. Trump can expect no progress on denuclearization without deflecting Pompeo’s July 2017 statement the North Korean people “would love to see” Kim removed from power, and that he remained hopeful the U.S. would figure out a way to make that happen.


    But those are details. We already know what kind of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be. Given his firm stances on issues such as the Iranian nuclear deal, informed by a staunch political philosophy formed out of his Tea Party days, and backed up by his Washington experience and closeness to Trump, it is very unlikely Pompeo will be an inconsequential secretary in the Tillerson mold.

    The new worry is someone in a position that often served previous presidents by presenting dissenting opinions being filled by a man who will in lock-step amplify and support Trump’s own views. Don’t forget it was Pompeo who made the Sunday show rounds to defend the president’s response to the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville last August, even as other administration officials stayed silent. Critics who focused on a perceived lack of consistency in foreign policy hurting America’s global credibility will need to prepare for a policy machine that fully mirrors the intent of Donald Trump.




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    State Dept Staffs Syria Ceasefire Violations Hotline — With Non-Arabic Speakers

    March 7, 2016 // 14 Comments »

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    Is there a better way to ensure no troublesome violations of John Kerry’s signature ceasefire in Syria get reported than by staffing the hotline where violations are to be reported by Syrians with non-Arabic speakers?

    Gotta love those clever gals and guys over at the State Department. The Department is all a twitter, high-fiving each other and sending congratulatory emails to Secretary of State John Kerry over his negotiating a ceasefire in Syria. And, in order to monitor compliance with the terms of the ceasefire, State set up a hotline. Ordinary Syrians, out there on the ground, could call in to report violations.

    Now remember, violations by anyone other than the naughty Russkies might make the State Department look bad, as if the ceasefire was only smoke, mirrors and a PR stunt, violated in part by forces to include the U.S.-supported militias.


    So, by some wacky Washington coincidence, the State Department admitted Wednesday it used only volunteers with limited Arabic language abilities to staff that hotline it set up to take calls about ongoing violence in Syria.

    That move led to confusion, as people who speak Arabic, which perhaps unknown to State is Syria’s official language, tried to call with information about violations of the cease-fire, only to get hung up by volunteers who didn’t understand the language.

    See, that volunteer part is another funny. Something as important as a hotline into Syria is staffed only by volunteers at State. No one could be bothered to assign personnel full-time to such a task.



    “In order to help monitor the cessation of hostilities in Syria, we did set up an information hotline that was staffed 24/7, where violations could be reported, I think via a number of different apps,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. “There were some language issues among some of the volunteers. Granted, these again are State Department employees who are doing this in addition to their usual jobs.”

    “We are aware that there were language issues, as you note, and we’re working to correct those, obviously, because it’s important that we have Arabic speakers who are able to field incoming calls,” Toner said.

    Toner was asked whether proficiency in Arabic was a requirement for volunteering to work the hotline.

    “It was, just but, you know, given the time limits on setting this up, probably some of the language skills weren’t properly vetted,” he said. “So, we’re working to address that.”

    When asked for the phone number of the Syrian hotline, Toner said he didn’t have it on him. “I don’t have it in front of me, sorry,” he said.

    UPDATE: Apparently State is now redirecting calls from the Washington-based hotline to the American Embassy in Kuwait, where presumably they have someone who speaks Arabic.




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    Kerry Phones Serbian PM Over Diplomats Killed in U.S. Libya Strike

    February 24, 2016 // 6 Comments »

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    So, those American airstrikes recently in Libya, the ones for freedom and to defeat ISIS and banish Ant Man to hell?

    Yeah, darn it, they also killed two Serbian diplomats. But don’t worry, America’s own secretary of state John Kerry personally called the Serbian prime minister to say “Sorry, our bad, dude.”

    So that’s OK now. The U.S. may resume bombing nations of its choosing around the globe.


    Even as the Pentagon said it had “no information” indicating that the American attack had led to the deaths of two Serbians and that the circumstances of their deaths “remained unclear,” Kerry offered his condolences to Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic over the Serbian diplomats killed in the U.S. airstrike.

    Serbia officials said the strike’s victims included two officials from Serbia’s embassy in Libya, Sladjana Stankovic and Jovica Stepic, who had been taken hostage in the area. Kerry told the prime minister that he would inform the Serbian government about all the details of an investigation to be conducted by the United States concerning the death of the diplomats.

    Serbian Prime Minister Vucic on the weekend said that the pair “would have been released, had they not been killed” by the United States.

    Nothing says World’s Last Remaining Superpower like the ability to blow off the killing of two friendly-nation diplomats. Imagine the inverse, with two American diplomatic staff killed abroad, say, maybe in Benghazi?



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    Mini-World War Underway in Syria: The Players

    February 23, 2016 // 23 Comments »

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    While Secretary of State John Kerry (personal slogan: “Did you know I was still Secretary of State?”) bleats about reaching some sort of imaginary ceasefire with the Russians during negotiations in Munich (optics, John, optics: you don’t negotiate a peace thing in Munich), what is basically a small version of world war continues unabated in Syria.


    Because the war, entering its sixth year, is so confusing, and the on-the-ground situation so complex, let’s look at it in simple digest form:


    Russian warplanes are bombing away, primarily in support of Syrian president Assad against a plethora of militias including ISIS, but also against Turkish proxy forces likely trying to slice off some tasty Syrian border territory.

    Iraqi and Lebanese militias aided by Iranian special forces are on the ground. An assortment of Syrian rebels backed by the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are fighting to hold them back.

    Various Kurdish forces working with Washington and/or Moscow are taking advantage of the chaos to extend Kurdish territories, in Syria, Iraq and odd bits of Turkey. The Islamic State has snatched land while all the focus was on the other groups, and still holds substantial territory in Syria and Iraq. The Saudis have threatened to invade Syria with ground troops, which the Iranians say they will respond to militarily.

    Ahead of Kerry’s supposed ceasefire, the conflict is escalating. Turkey joined in over the weekend, firing artillery across its border at Kurdish positions, prompting appeals from the Obama administration to both Turks and Kurds to back down.

    The U.S. is supporting both sides as part of its anti-ISIS clusterfutz campaign.


    The current locus of the struggle is around the city of Aleppo, in Syria. As the Washington Post’s most excellent reporter Liz Sly describes it, “The Aleppo offensive is affirming Moscow’s stature as a dominant regional power across the heart of the Middle East. The advances by Shiite Iraqi and Lebanese militias are extending the sway of Iran far beyond the traditional Shiite axis of influence into Sunni areas of northern Syria. Although Syria’s army is claiming the victories, rebels, military experts and videos by the fighters themselves say almost all of the advances are being made by the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, the Iraqi Badr Brigade, Harakat al-Nujaba and other Iraqi Shiite militias that are sponsored by Iran.”

    Back to those Russian airstrikes. With that help, Syrian government forces and Iran-backed militias are trying to besiege the rebel-held section of Aleppo to starve the rebels into submission. Using starvation as a weapon is a war crime, but it has been widely used in the Syrian war. Government-aligned forces have also severed the main supply route to Turkey that delivered food, weapons and aid to rebel-held areas, leaving one remaining route. The United Nations is warning that about 300,000 people in the rebel-held part of Aleppo could be at risk of starvation.


    Got it? If you think you do, please drop the White House a line and explain it to them.




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    Iran Nuclear Accord: Balance of Power in the Middle East Just Changed

    August 4, 2015 // 4 Comments »

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    Don’t sweat the details of the July nuclear accord between the United States and Iran. What matters is that the calculus of power in the Middle East just changed in significant ways.


    Washington and Tehran announced their nuclear agreement on July 14th and yes, some of the details are still classified. Of course the Obama administration negotiated alongside China, Russia, Great Britain, France, and Germany, which means Iran and five other governments must approve the detailed 159-page “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.” The U.N., which also had to sign off on the deal, has already agreed to measures to end its sanctions against Iran.

    If we’re not all yet insta-experts on centrifuges and enrichment ratios, the media will ensure that in the next two months — during which Congress will debate and weigh approving the agreement — we’ll become so. Verification strategies will be debated. The Israelis will claim that the apocalypse is nigh. And everyone who is anyone will swear to the skies that the devil is in the details. On Sunday talk shows, war hawks will fuss endlessly about the nightmare to come, as well as the weak-kneedness of the president and his “delusional” secretary of state, John Kerry. (No one of note, however, will ask why the president’s past decisions to launch or continue wars in the Middle East were not greeted with at least the same sort of skepticism as his present efforts to forestall one.)

    There are two crucial points to take away from all the angry chatter to come: first, none of this matters and second, the devil is not in the details, though he may indeed appear on those Sunday talk shows.

    Here’s what actually matters most: at a crucial moment and without a shot being fired, the United States and Iran have come to a turning point away from an era of outright hostility. The nuclear accord binds the two nations to years of engagement and leaves the door open to a far fuller relationship. Understanding how significant that is requires a look backward.


    A Very Quick History of U.S.-Iranian Relations

    The short version: relations have been terrible for almost four decades. A slightly longer version would, however, begin in 1953 when the CIA helped orchestrate a coup to oust Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh. A secular leader — just the sort of guy U.S. officials have dreamed about ever since the ayatollahs took power in 1979 — Mosaddegh sought to nationalize Iran’s oil industry. That, at the time, was a total no-no for Washington and London. Hence, he had to go.

    In his place, Washington installed a puppet leader worthy of the sleaziest of banana republics, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The U.S. assisted him in maintaining a particularly grim secret police force, the Savak, which he aimed directly at his political opponents, democratic and otherwise, including the ones who espoused a brand of Islamic fundamentalism unfamiliar to the West at the time. Washington lapped up the Shah’s oil and, in return, sold him the modern weapons he fetishized. Through the 1970s, the U.S. also supplied nuclear fuel and reactor technology to Iran to build on President Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” initiative, which had kicked off Iran’s nuclear program in 1957.

    In 1979, following months of demonstrations and seeing his fate in the streets of Tehran, the Shah fled. Religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile to take control of the nation in what became known as the Islamic Revolution. Iranian “students” channeled decades of anti-American rage over the Shah and his secret police into a takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran. In an event that few Americans of a certain age are likely to forget, 52 American staffers were held hostage there for some 15 months.

    In retaliation, the U.S. would, among other things, assist Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein (remember him?) in his war with Iran in the 1980s, and in 1988, an American guided missile cruiser in the Persian Gulf would shoot down a civilian Iran Air flight, killing all 290 people on board. (Washington claimed it was an accident.) In 2003, when Iran reached out to Washington, following American military successes in Afghanistan, President George W. Bush declared that country part of the “Axis of Evil.”

    Iran later funded, trained, and helped lead a Shiite insurgency against the United States in Iraq. In tit-for-tat fashion, U.S. forces raided an Iranian diplomatic office there and arrested several staffers. As Washington slowly withdrew its military from that country, Iran increased its support for pro-Tehran leaders in Baghdad. When Iran’s nuclear program grew, the U.S. attacked its computers with malware, launching what was in effect the first cyberwar in history. At the same time, Washington imposed economic sanctions on the country and its crucial energy production sector.

    In short, for the last 36 years, the U.S.-Iranian relationship has been hostile, antagonistic, unproductive, and often just plain mean. Neither country seems to have benefited, even as both remained committed to the fight.


    Iran Ascendant

    Despite the best efforts of the United States, Iran is now the co-dominant power in the Middle East. And rising. (Washington remains the other half of that “co.”)

    Another quick plunge into largely forgotten history: the U.S. stumbled into the post-9/11 era with two invasions that neatly eliminated Iran’s key enemies on its eastern and western borders — Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. (The former is, of course, gone for good; the latter is doing better these days, though unlikely to threaten Iran for some time.) As those wars bled on without the promised victories, America’s military weariness sapped the desire in the Bush administration for military strikes against Iran. Jump almost a decade ahead and Washington now quietly supports at least some of that country’s military efforts in Iraq against the insurgent Islamic State. The Obama administration is seemingly at least half-resigned to looking the other way while Tehran ensures that it will have a puppet regime in Baghdad. In its serially failing strategies in Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria, Washington has all but begged the Iranians to assume a leading role in those places. They have.

    And that only scratches the surface of the new Iranian ascendancy in the region. Despite the damage done by U.S.-led economic sanctions, Iran’s real strength lies at home. It is probably the most stable Muslim nation in the Middle East. It has existed more or less within its current borders for thousands of years. It is almost completely ethnically, religiously, culturally, and linguistically homogeneous, with its minorities comparatively under control. While still governed in large part by its clerics, the country has nonetheless experienced a series of increasingly democratic electoral transitions since the 1979 revolution. Most significantly, unlike nearly every other nation in the Middle East, Iran’s leaders do not rule in fear of an Islamic revolution. They already had one.


    Why Iran Won’t Have Nuclear Weapons

    Now, about those nukes. It would take a blind man in the dark not to notice one obvious fact about the Greater Middle East: regimes the U.S. opposes tend to find themselves blasted into chaos once they lose their nuclear programs. The Israelis destroyed Saddam’s program, as they did Syria’s, from the air. Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya went down the drain thanks to American/NATO-inspired regime change after he voluntarily gave up his nuclear ambitions. At the same time, no one in Tehran could miss how North Korea’s membership in the regime-change club wasn’t renewed once that country went nuclear. Consider those pretty good reasons for Iran to develop a robust nuclear weapons program — and not give it up entirely.

    While, since 2002, Washington hasn’t taken a day off in its saber-rattling toward Iran, it isn’t the only country the clerics fear. They are quite convinced that Israel, with its unacknowledged but all too real nuclear arsenal, is capable and might someday be willing to deliver a strike via missile, aircraft, or submarine.

    Now, here’s the added irony: American sabers and Israeli nukes also explain why Iran will always remain a nuclear threshold state — one that holds most or all of the technology and materials needed to make such a weapon, but chooses not to take the final steps. Just exactly how close a country is at any given moment to having a working nuclear weapon is called “breakout time.” If Iran were to get too close, with too short a breakout time, or actually went nuclear, a devastating attack by Israel and/or the United States would be a near inevitability. Iran is not a third world society. Its urban areas and infrastructure are exactly the kinds of things bombing campaigns are designed to blow away. So call Iran’s nuclear program a game of chicken, but one in which all the players involved always knew who would blink first.


    The U.S.-Iran Nuclear Accord

    So if Iran was never going to be a true nuclear power and if the world has lived with Iran as a threshold state for some time now, does the July accord matter?

    There are two answers to that question: it doesn’t and it does.

    It doesn’t really matter because the deal changes so little on the ground. If the provisions of the accord are implemented as best we currently understand them, with no cheating, then Iran will slowly move from its current two- to three-month breakout time to a year or more. Iran doesn’t have nukes now, it would not have nukes if there were no accord, and it won’t have nukes with the accord. In other words, the Vienna agreement successfully eliminated weapons of mass destruction that never existed.

    It does really matter because, for the first time in decades, the two major powers in the Middle East have opened the door to relations. Without the political cover of the accord, the White House could never envisage taking a second step forward.

    It’s a breakthrough because through it the U.S. and Iran acknowledge shared interests for the first time, even as they recognize their ongoing conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere. That’s how adversaries work together: you don’t have to make deals like the July accord with your friends. Indeed, President Obama’s description of how the deal will be implemented — based on verification, not trust — represents a precise choice of words. The reference is to President Ronald Reagan, who used the phrase “trust but verify” in 1987 when signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Russians.

    The agreement was reached the old-school way, by sitting down at a table over many months and negotiating. Diplomats consulted experts. Men and women in suits, not in uniform, did most of the talking. The process, perhaps unfamiliar to a post-9/11 generation raised on the machismo of “you’re either with us or against us,” is called compromise. It’s an essential part of a skill that is increasingly unfamiliar to Americans: diplomacy. The goal is not to defeat an enemy, find quick fixes, solve every bilateral issue, or even gain the release of the four Americans held in Iran. The goal is to achieve a mutually agreeable resolution to a specific problem. Such deft statecraft demonstrates the sort of foreign policy dexterity American voters have seldom seen exercised since Barack Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize (Cuba being the sole exception).


    It’s All About the Money

    While diplomacy brought the United States and Iran to this point, cash is what will expand and sustain the relationship.

    Iran, with the fourth-largest proven crude oil reserves and the second-largest natural gas reserves on the planet, is ready to start selling on world markets as soon as sanctions lift. Its young people reportedly yearn for greater engagement with the West. The lifting of sanctions will allow Iranian businesses access to global capital and outside businesses access to starved Iranian commercial markets.

    Since November 2014, the Chinese, for example, have already doubled their investment in Iran. European companies, including Shell and Peugeot, are now holding talks with Iranian officials. Apple is contacting Iranian distributors. Germany sent a trade delegation to Tehran. Ads for European cars and luxury goods are starting to reappear in the Iranian capital. Hundreds of billions of dollars worth of foreign technology and expertise will need to be acquired if the country is to update its frayed oil and natural gas infrastructure. Many of its airliners are decades old and need replacement. Airlines in Dubai are fast adding new Iran routes to meet growing demand. The money will flow. After that, it will be very hard for the war hawks in Washington, Tel Aviv, or Riyadh to put the toothpaste back in the tube, which is why you hear such screaming and grinding of teeth now.


    The Real Fears of the Israelis and the Saudis

    Neither Israel nor the Saudis ever really expected to trade missile volleys with a nuclear-armed Iran, nor do their other primary objections to the accord hold much water. Critics have said the deal will only last 10 years. (The key provisions scale in over 10 years, then taper off.) Leaving aside that a decade is a lifetime in politics, this line of thinking also presumes that, as the calendar rolls over to 10 years and a day, Iran will bolt from the deal and go rogue. It’s a curious argument to make.

    Similarly, any talk of the accord touching off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East is long out of date. Israel has long had the bomb, with no arms race triggered. Latent fears that Iran will create “the Islamic Bomb” ignore the fact that Pakistan, with own hands dirty from abetting terror and plenty of Islamic extremists on hand, has been a nuclear power since at least 1998.

    No, what fundamentally worries the Israelis and the Saudis is that Iran will rejoin the community of nations as a diplomatic and trading partner of the United States, Asia, and Europe. Embarking on a diplomatic offensive in the wake of its nuclear deal, Iranian officials assured fellow Muslim countries in the region that they hoped the accord would pave the way for greater cooperation. American policy in the Persian Gulf, once reliably focused only on its own security and energy needs, may (finally) start to line up with an increasingly multifaceted Eurasian reality. A powerful Iran is indeed a threat to the status quo — hence the upset in Tel Aviv and Riyadh — just not a military one. Real power in the twenty-first century, short of total war, rests with money.

    The July accord acknowledges the real-world power map of the Middle East. It does not make Iran and the United States friends. It does, however, open the door for the two biggest regional players to talk to each other and develop the kinds of financial and trade ties that will make conflict more impractical. After more than three decades of U.S.-Iranian hostility in the world’s most volatile region, that is no small accomplishment.




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    The Iranian Ascendancy

    April 22, 2015 // 15 Comments »

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    The U.S. is running around in circles in the Middle East, patching together coalitions here, acquiring strange bedfellows there, and in location after location trying to figure out who the enemy of its enemy actually is. The result is just what you’d expect: chaos further undermining whatever’s left of the nations whose frailty birthed the jihadism America is trying to squash.

    And in a classic tale of unintended consequences, just about every time Washington has committed another blunder in the Middle East, Iran has stepped in to take advantage. Consider that country the rising power in the region and credit American clumsiness for the new Iranian ascendancy.

    Today’s News — and Some History

    The U.S. recently concluded air strikes in support of the Iraqi militias that Iran favors as they took back the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State (IS). At the same time, Washington began supplying intelligence and aerial refueling on demand for a Saudi bombing campaign against the militias Iran favors in Yemen. Iran continues to advise and assist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Washington would still like to depose and, as part of its Syrian strategy, continues to supply and direct Hezbollah in Lebanon, a group the U.S. considers a terror outfit.

    Meanwhile, the U.S. has successfully negotiated the outlines of an agreement with Iran in which progress on severely constricting its nuclear program would be traded for an eventual lifting of sanctions and the granting of diplomatic recognition. This is sure to further bolster Tehran’s status as a regional power, while weakening long-time American allies Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States.

    A clever pundit could undoubtedly paint all of the above as a realpolitik ballet on Washington’s part, but the truth seems so much simpler and more painful. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, U.S. policy in the region has combined confusion on an immense scale with awkward bursts of ill-coordinated and exceedingly short-term acts of expediency. The country that has most benefited is Iran. No place illustrates this better than Iraq.

    Iraq Redux (Yet Again)

    On April 9, 2003, just over 12 years ago, U.S. troops pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, symbolically marking what George W. Bush hoped was the beginning of a campaign to remake the Middle East in America’s image by bringing not just Iraq but Syria and Iran to heel. And there can be no question that the invasion of Iraq did indeed set events in motion that are still remaking the region in ways once unimaginable.

    In the wake of the Iraq invasion and occupation, the Arab Spring blossomed and failed. (The recent Obama administration decision to resume arms exports to the military government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt could be considered its coup de grâce.) Today, fighting ripples through Libya, Syria, Yemen, the Maghreb, the Horn of Africa, and other parts of the Greater Middle East. Terrorists attack in once relatively peaceful places like Tunisia. There is now a de facto independent Kurdistan — last a reality in the sixteenth century — that includes the city of Kirkuk. Previously stable countries have become roiling failed states and home to terrorist groups that didn’t even exist when the U.S. military rolled across the Iraqi border in 2003.

    And, of course, 12 years later in Iraq itself the fighting roars on. Who now remembers President Obama declaring victory in 2011 and praising American troops for coming home with their “heads held high”? He seemed then to be washing his hands forever of the pile of sticky brown sand that was Bush’s Iraq. Trillions had been spent, untold lives lost or ruined, but as with Vietnam decades earlier, the U.S. was to move on and not look back. So much for the dream of a successful Pax Americana in the Middle East, but at least it was all over.

    You know what happened next. Unlike in Vietnam, Washington did go back, quickly turning a humanitarian gesture in August 2014 to save the Yazidi people from destruction at the hands of the Islamic State into a full-scale bombing campaign in Syria and Iraq. A coalition of 62 nations was formed. (Where are they all now while the U.S. conducts 85% of all air strikes against IS?)  The tap on a massive arms flow was turned on. The architect of the 2007 “surge” in Iraq and a leaker of top secret documents, retired general and former CIA Director David Petraeus, was brought back in for advice. Twenty-four-seven bombing became the order of the day and several thousand U.S. military advisors returned to familiar bases to retrain some part of an American-created army that had only recently collapsed and abandoned four key northern cities to Islamic State militants. Iraq War 3.0 was officially underway and many pundits — including me — predicted a steady escalation with the usual quagmire to follow.

    Such a result can hardly be ruled out yet, but at the moment it’s as if Barack Obama had stepped to the edge of the Iraqi abyss, peered over, and then shrugged his shoulders. Both his administration and the U.S. military appear content for the moment neither to pull back nor press harder.

    The American people seem to feel much the same way. Except in the Republican Congress (and even there in less shrill form than usual), there are few calls for… well, anything. The ongoing air strikes remain “surgical” in domestic politics, if not in Iraq and Syria. Hardly noticed and little reported on here, they have had next to no effect on Americans. Yet they remain sufficient to assure the right wing that the American military is still the best tool to solve problems abroad, while encouraging liberals who want to show that they can be as tough as anyone going into 2016.

    At first glance, the American version of Iraq War 3.0 has the feel of the Libyan air intervention — the same lack of concern, that is, for the long game. But Iraq 2015 is no Libya 2011, because this time while America sits back, Iran rises.

    Iran Ascendant

    The Middle East was ripe for change. Prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the last major transformational event in the area was the fall of that classic American stooge, the Shah of Iran, in 1979. Otherwise, many of the thug regimes in power since the 1960s, the height of the Cold War, had stayed in place, and so had most of the borders set even earlier, in the aftermath of World War I.

    Iran should send America a fruit basket to thank it for setting the stage so perfectly for its ascent. As a start, in 2003 the United States eliminated Iran’s major border threats: Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to the west and the Taliban in Afghanistan to the east. (The Taliban are back of course, but diligently focused on America’s puppet Afghan government.) The long slog of Washington’s wars in both those countries dulled even the reliably bloodthirsty American public’s taste for yet more of the same, and cooled off Bush-era plans in Tel Aviv and Washington for air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities. (After all, if even Vice President Dick Cheney couldn’t pull the trigger on Iran before leaving office in 2008, who in 2015 America is going to do so?)

    Better yet for the Iranians, when Saddam was hanged in 2006, they not only lost an enemy who had invaded their country in 1980, launching a bitter war against them that didn’t end for eight years, but gained an ally in the new Iraq. As U.S. influence withered away with the failure of the March 2010 Iraqi elections to produce a broadly representative government, Iran stepped in to broker a thoroughly partisan settlement leading to a sectarian Shia government in Baghdad bent on ensuring that the country’s minority Sunni population would remain out of power forever. The Obama administration seemed nearly oblivious to Iran’s gains in Iraq in 2010 — and seems so again in 2015.

    Iran in Iraq 

    In Tikrit, Iranian-led Shia forces recently drove the Islamic State from the city. In charge was Qassem Suleimani, the leader of the Qods Force (a unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards), who had previously led the brutally effective efforts of Iranian special forces against U.S. soldiers in Iraq War 2.0. He returned to that country and assembled his own coalition of Shia militias to take Tikrit. All of them have long benefited from Iranian support, as has the increasingly Shia-dominated Iraqi army.

    In addition, the Iranians seem to have brought in their own tanks and possibly even ground troops for the assault on the city. They also moved advanced rocket systems into Iraq, the same weapons Hamas has used against Israel in recent conflicts.

    Only one thing was lacking: air power. After much hemming and hawing, when it looked like the assault on Tikrit had been blunted by well-dug-in Islamic State fighters in a heavily booby-trapped city, the Obama administration agreed to provide it.

    On the U.S. side, the air of desperation around the decision to launch air strikes on Tikrit was palpable. You could feel it, for instance, in this statement by a Pentagon spokesperson almost pleading for the Iraqi government to favor Washington over Tehran: “I think it’s important that the Iraqis understand that what would be most helpful to them is a reliable partner in this fight against IS. Reliable, professional, advanced military capabilities are something that very clearly and very squarely reside with the coalition.”  

    Imagine if you had told an American soldier — or general — leaving Iraq in 2011 that, just a few years later in the country where he or she had watched friends die, the U.S. would be serving as Iran’s close air support.  Imagine if you had told him that Washington would be helping some of the same Shia militias who planted IEDs to kill Americans go after Sunnis — and essentially begging for the chance to do so. Who would’ve thunk it?

    The Limits of Air Power 101

    The White House no doubt imagined that U.S. bombs would be seen as the decisive factor in Tikrit and that the sectarian government in Baghdad would naturally come to… What? Like us better than the Iranians?

    Bizarre as such a “strategy” might seem on the face of it, it has proven even stranger in practice. The biggest problem with air power is that, while it’s good at breaking things, it isn’t decisive. It cannot determine who moves into the governor’s mansion after the dust settles. Only ground forces can do that, so a victory over the Islamic State in Tikrit, no matter what role air strikes played, can only further empower those Iranian-backed Shia militias. You don’t have to be a military expert to know that this is the nature of air power, which makes it all the more surprising that American strategists seem so blind to it.

    As for liking Washington better for its helping hand, there are few signs of that. Baghdad officials have largely been silent on America’s contribution, praising only the “air coverage of the Iraqi air force and the international coalition.” Shia militia forces on the ground have been angered by and scornful of the United States for — as they see it — interfering in their efforts to take Tikrit on their own.

    The victory in that city will only increase the government’s reliance on the militias, whom Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi now refers to as “popular volunteers,” rather than the still-limited number of soldiers the Americans have so far been capable of training. (The Pentagon might, by the way, want to see if Iran can pass along any training tips, as their militias, unlike the American-backed Iraqi army, seem to be doing just fine.) That also means that the government will have no choice but to tolerate the Shia militia atrocities and acts of ethnic cleansing that have already taken place in Sunni Tikrit and will surely follow in any other Sunni areas similarly “liberated.” Claims coming out of Washington that the U.S. will be carefully monitoring the acts of Iraqi forces ring increasingly hollow.

    What Tikrit has, in fact, done is solidify Iran’s influence over Prime Minister al-Abadi, currently little more than the acting mayor of Baghdad, who claimed the victory in Tikrit as a way to increase his own prestige. The win also allows his Shia-run government to seize control of the ruins of that previously Sunni enclave. And no one should miss the obvious symbolism that lies in the fact that the first major city retaken from the Islamic State in a Sunni area is also the birthplace of Saddam Hussein.

    The best the Obama administration can do is watch helplessly as Tehran and Baghdad take their bows. A template has been created for a future in which other Sunni areas, including the country’s second largest city, Mosul, and Sunni cities in Anbar Province will be similarly retaken, perhaps with the help of American air power but almost certainly with little credit to Washington.

    Iran in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen

    Tehran is now playing a similarly important role in other places where U.S. policy stumbles have left voids, particularly in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.

    In Syria, Iranian forces, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Qods Force, and their intelligence services, advise and assist Bashar al-Assad’s military. They also support Hezbollah elements from Lebanon fighting on Assad’s side. At best, Washington is again playing second fiddle, using its air power against the Islamic State and training “moderate” Syrian fighters, the first of whom refused to even show up for their initial battle.

    In Yemen, a U.S.-supported regime, backed by Special Forces advisers and a full-scale drone targeted assassination campaign, recently crumbled. The American Embassy was evacuated in February, the last of those advisers in March. The takeover of the capital, Sana’a, and later significant parts of the rest of the country by the Houthis, a rebel Shiite minority group, represents, in the words of one Foreign Policy writer, “a huge victory for Iran… the Houthis’ decision to tie their fate to Tehran’s regional machinations risks tearing Yemen apart and throwing the country into chaos.”

    The panicked Saudis promptly intervened and were quickly backed by the Obama administration’s insertion of the United States in yet another conflict by executive order. Relentless Saudi air strikes (perhaps using some of the $640 million worth of cluster bombs the U.S. sold them last year) are supported by yet another coalition, this time of Sudan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and other Sunni powers in the region. The threat of an invasion, possibly using Egyptian troops, looms.  The Iranians have moved ships into the area in response to a Saudi naval blockade of Yemen.

    No matter what happens, Iran will be strengthened. Either it will find itself in a client relationship with a Houthi movement that has advanced to the Saudi border or, should they be driven back, a chaotic state in Yemen with an ever-strengthening al-Qaeda offshoot. Either outcome would undoubtedly discombobulate the Saudis (and the Americans) and so sit well with Iran.

    To make things even livelier in a fragmenting region, Sunni rebels infiltrating from neighboring Pakistan recently killed eight Iranian border guards. This probably represented a retaliatory attack in response to an earlier skirmish in which Iranian Revolutionary Guards killed three suspected Pakistani Sunni militants. Once started, fires do tend to spread.

    For those keeping score at home, the Iranians now hold significant positions in three Middle Eastern countries (or at least fragments of former countries) in addition to Iraq.

    Iran Ascending and the Nuclear Question

    Iran is well positioned to ascend. Geopolitically, alone in the region it is a nation that has existed more or less within its current borders for thousands of years. It is almost completely ethnically stable and religiously, culturally, and linguistically homogeneous, with its minorities comparatively under control. While still governed in large part by its clerics, Iran has seen evolving democratic electoral transitions at the secular level. Politically, history is on Iran’s side. If you set aside the 1953 CIA-backed coup that ousted the democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and put the U.S.-backed Shah in power for a quarter of a century, Iran has sorted out its governance on its own for some time.

    Somehow, despite decades of sanctions, Iran, with the fourth-largest proven crude oil reserves and the second-largest natural gas reserves on the planet, has managed to hold its economy together, selling what oil it can primarily to Asia. It is ready to sell more oil as soon as sanctions lift. It has a decent conventional military by local standards. Its young reportedly yearn for greater engagement with the West. Unlike nearly every other nation in the Middle East, Iran’s leaders do not rule in fear of an Islamic revolution. They already had one — 36 years ago.

    Recently, the U.S., Iran, and the P5 (Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China) reached a preliminary agreement to significantly constrain that country’s nuclear program and lift sanctions. It appears that both the Obama administration and Tehran are eager to turn it into an official document by the end of June. A deal isn’t a deal until signed on the dotted line, and the congressional Republicans are sharpening their knives, but the intent is clearly there.

    To keep the talks on track, by the end of June the Obama administration will have released to the Islamic Republic a total of $11.9 billion in previously frozen assets, dating back to the 1979 Iranian takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. In addition to the straight-up flood of cash, the U.S. agreed that Iran may sell $4.2 billion worth of oil, free from any sanctions. The U.S. will also allow Iran approximately $1.5 billion in gold sales, as well as easier access to “humanitarian transactions.” Put another way, someone in Washington wanted this badly enough to pay for it.

    For President Obama and his advisers, this agreement is clearly a late grasp (or perhaps last gasp) at legacy building, and maybe even a guilty stab at justifying that 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. The urge to etch some kind of foreign policy success into future history books that, at the moment, threaten to be grim reading is easy enough to understand. So it should have surprised no one that John Kerry, Obama’s once globetrotting secretary of state, basically took up residence in Switzerland to negotiate with the Iranians. He sat at the table in Lausanne bargaining while Tikrit burned, Syria simmered, his country was chased out of Yemen, and the Saudis launched their own war in that beleaguered country. That he had hardly a word to say about any of those events, or much of anything else going on in the world at the time, is an indication of just how much value the Obama administration puts on those nuclear negotiations.

    For the Iranians, trading progress on developing nuclear weapons for the full-scale lifting of sanctions was an attractive offer. After all, its leaders know that the country could never go fully nuclear without ensuring devastating Israeli strikes, and so lost little with the present agreement while gaining much. Being accepted as a peer by Washington in such negotiations only further establishes their country’s status as a regional power. Moreover, a nuclear agreement that widens any rift between the U.S., Israel, and the Saudis plays to Tehran’s new strength. Finally, the stronger economy likely to blossom once sanctions are lifted will offer the nation the possibility of new revenues and renewed foreign investment. (It’s easy to imagine Chinese businesspeople on Orbitz making air reservations as you read this.) The big winner in the nuclear deal is not difficult to suss out.

    What Lies Ahead

    In these last months, despite the angry, fearful cries and demands of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Saudi royals, and neo- and other conservatives in Congress, Iran has shown few signs of aspiring to the sort of self-destruction going nuclear would entail. (If Iran had created a bomb every time Netanyahu claimed they were on the verge of having one in the past two decades, Tehran would be littered with them.) In fact, trading mushroom clouds with Israel and possibly the U.S. never looked like an appealing goal to the Iranian leadership. Instead, they preferred to seek a more conventional kind of influence throughout the Middle East. They were hardly alone in that, but their success has been singular in the region in these years.

    The U.S. provided free tutorials in Afghanistan and Iraq on why actually occupying territory in the neighborhood isn’t the road to such influence. Iran’s leaders have not ignored the advice. Instead, Iran’s rise has been stoked by a collection of client states, aligned governments, sympathetic and/or beholden militias, and — when all else fails — chaotic non-states that promise less trouble and harm to Tehran than to its various potential enemies.

    Despite Iran’s gains, the U.S. will still be the biggest kid on the block for years, possibly decades, to come. One hopes that America will not use that military and economic strength to lash out at the new regional power it inadvertently helped midwife. And if any of this does presage some future U.S. conflict with an Iran that has gotten “too powerful,” then we shall have witnessed a great irony, a great tragedy, and a damn waste of American blood and resources.




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    Is the U.S. Paying Off Iran to Keep the Nuke Negotiations Alive?

    March 23, 2015 // 12 Comments »

    nuke

    Negotiations require some back and forth, demonstrations of good will and good intent, and massive pay offs.

    Wait, what?

    The Obama administration in January handed over $490 million in cash to Iran, and will have released a total of $11.9 billion to the Islamic Republic by the time nuclear talks are scheduled to end in June, according to the State Department. The January release is the third such payment. The release of funds was agreed to by the Obama administration in November as part of another extension in negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program.

    Iran will receive an additional ten payments from the United States through June 22, when talks are currently scheduled to end.

    Iran received $4.2 billion in similar payments under the 2013 interim agreement with the United States, and was then given another $2.8 billion by the Obama administration last year in a bid to keep Iran committed to the talks through November, when negotiators parted ways without reaching an agreement. The deal also gives Iran access to $4.2 billion from oil sales, with approximately $1.5 billion more from imports of gold and other precious metals, as well as easier access to “humanitarian transactions.”

    The money does not come from taxpayers’ pockets, but rather represents Iranian assets frozen in the U.S. as part of various sanctions imposed on Tehran. Most of the money was frozen in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that saw Iranians storm the U.S. Embassy and capture 52 American hostages.

    Not everyone outside of Tehran is happy about the arrangement. Some Republican lawmakers tried, but failed, to pass legislation last year to prevent the release of cash due to a lack of restrictions on how Iran can spend the money. They were concerned Iran could use the funds to finance terror or purchase weapons. Several Senators unsuccessfully asked the White House to certify Iran was not using the money to support terrorism.

    Republican statements aside, in negotiations the rule of thumb is to get something for everything you give. As best we can tell, what the U.S. has gotten for all that money so far is not much more than Iran’s willingness to keep sitting at the table. After all, there are ten payments left to be handed out before the negotiating process is considered a failure. The old adage may be worth remembering: if you’re not sure who the sucker at the table is, it’s you.




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    The Future of Mosul is Kobane

    March 7, 2015 // 14 Comments »

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    It was necessary to destroy the Syrian town of Kobane (above) in order to save it from ISIS. The rubble and ruin of what was once a place more than 200,000 people lived is now free. Want to know the future of Mosul? Look to Kobane.


    Destroying Kobane

    Kobane once mattered nearly nothing at all, at least when ISIS was winning there in the face of NATO-ally Turkey choosing not to intervene. In October 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry, said preventing the fall of Kobani was not a strategic U.S. objective. “As horrific as it is to watch in real time what is happening in Kobane, you have to step back and understand the strategic objective.” That objective was something about destroying ISIS’ command centers.

    After the U.S. abandoned the goal of bringing Turkey into the fight, and, against Turkey’s wishes, facilitated the movement of Kurdish forces across Iraq to attack Kobane, the city suddenly did become a U.S. strategic objective. Speaking a little over two months after his earlier dismissive statement, Kerry said with the recapture of the Kurdish city of Kobane, ISIS was “forced to acknowledge its own defeat. Daesh – ISIL as some know it – has said all along that Kobane was a real symbolic and strategic objective.” Kerry continued to say that pushing ISIS out of Kobane was “a big deal.”

    By all accounts, the over 700 airstrikes the U.S. conducted on a round-the-clock basis on Kobane devastated the town. The civilian death toll has never been calculated. No plans to rebuild the city have been announced. Kobane was saved from ISIS by destroying it.


    Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam

    A famous quote from the Vietnam War was a statement attributed to an unnamed U.S. officer by correspondent Peter Arnett, writing about Bến Tre city in February 1968: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.” The officer was talking about the decision to bomb and shell the town regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the Vietcong. The quote became garbled over time, eventually becoming the familiar, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”

    The meaning of the phrase, as applied to Vietnam and to Kobane, is the same. What absurd value can be found in decimating a town in the cause of freeing it?

    Kobane is Free

    “Winning” in Kobane accomplishes nothing really. The city is destroyed. Over 200,000 refugees have been forced out, with questions about how they can ever return to resume their lives given such devastation. The decision not to intervene by the Turks exposed the fragility of the hastily assembled U.S. coalition, setting up future confrontations among allies with very different goals and agendas for this war.

    As an activist in the ISIS capital of Raqqa wrote, “People don’t look at Kobani and see a defeat, because everyone had to leave and the Americans bombed it to rubble to win.”

    Meanwhile, as attention and limited resources were tied up in a battle of questionable strategic import, ISIS gains ground in Anbar, and continues to gather recruits from around the world. Kobane may very well end up as an example from this war noted by historians, as was Ben Tre from the Vietnam War, though perhaps not the one the U.S. intended it to be.



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    Fighting in Iraq Until Hell Freezes Over

    October 7, 2014 // 3 Comments »



    I wanted to offer a wry chuckle before we headed into the heavy stuff about Iraq, so I tried to start this article with a suitably ironic formulation. You know, a déjà-vu-all-over-again kinda thing. I even thought about telling you how, in 2011, I contacted a noted author to blurb my book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, and he presciently declined, saying sardonically, “So you’re gonna be the one to write the last book on failure in Iraq?”

    I couldn’t do any of that. As someone who cares deeply about this country, I find it beyond belief that Washington has again plunged into the swamp of the Sunni-Shia mess in Iraq. A young soldier now deployed as one of the 1,600 non-boots-on-the-ground there might have been eight years old when the 2003 invasion took place. He probably had to ask his dad about it.  After all, less than three years ago, when dad finally came home with his head “held high,” President Obama assured Americans that “we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.” So what happened in the blink of an eye?

    The Sons of Iraq

    Sometimes, when I turn on the TV these days, the sense of seeing once again places in Iraq I’d been overwhelms me. After 22 years as a diplomat with the Department of State, I spent 12 long months in Iraq in 2009-2010 as part of the American occupation. My role was to lead two teams in “reconstructing” the nation. In practice, that meant paying for schools that would never be completed, setting up pastry shops on streets without water or electricity, and conducting endless propaganda events on Washington-generated themes of the week (“small business,” “women’s empowerment,” “democracy building.”)

    We even organized awkward soccer matches, where American taxpayer money was used to coerce reluctant Sunni teams into facing off against hesitant Shia ones in hopes that, somehow, the chaos created by the American invasion could be ameliorated on the playing field. In an afternoon, we definitively failed to reconcile the millennium-old Sunni-Shia divide we had sparked into ethnic-cleansing-style life in 2003-2004, even if the score was carefully stage managed into a tie by the 82nd Airborne soldiers with whom I worked.

    In 2006, the U.S. brokered the ascension to power of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia politician handpicked to unite Iraq. A bright, shining lie of a plan soon followed. Applying vast amounts of money, Washington’s emissaries created the Sahwa, or Sons of Iraq, a loose grouping of Sunnis anointed as “moderates” who agreed to temporarily stop killing in return for a promised place at the table in the New(er) Iraq. The “political space” for this was to be created by a massive escalation of the American military effort, which gained a particularly marketable name: the surge.

    I was charged with meeting the Sahwa leaders in my area. My job back then was to try to persuade them to stay on board just a little longer, even as they came to realize that they’d been had. Maliki’s Shia government in Baghdad, which was already ignoring American entreaties to be inclusive, was hell-bent on ensuring that there would be no Sunni “sons” in its Iraq.

    False alliances and double-crosses were not unfamiliar to the Sunni warlords I engaged with. Often, our talk — over endless tiny glasses of sweet, sweet tea stirred with white-hot metal spoons — shifted from the Shia and the Americans to their great-grandfathers’ struggle against the British. Revenge unfolds over generations, they assured me, and memories are long in the Middle East, they warned.

    When I left in 2010, the year before the American military finally departed, the truth on the ground should have been clear enough to anyone with the vision to take it in. Iraq had already been tacitly divided into feuding state-lets controlled by Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds. The Baghdad government had turned into a typical, gleeful third-world kleptocracy fueled by American money, but with a particularly nasty twist: they were also a group of autocrats dedicated to persecuting, marginalizing, degrading, and perhaps one day destroying the country’s Sunni minority.

    U.S. influence was fading fast, leaving the State Department, a small military contingent, various spooks, and contractors hidden behind the walls of the billion-dollar embassy (the largest in the world!) that had been built in a moment of imperial hubris. The foreign power with the most influence over events was by then Iran, the country the Bush administration had once been determined to take down alongside Saddam Hussein as part of the Axis of Evil.

    The Grandsons of Iraq

    The staggering costs of all this — $25 billion to train the Iraqi Army, $60 billion for the reconstruction-that-wasn’t, $2 trillion for the overall war, almost 4,500 Americans dead and more than 32,000 wounded, and an Iraqi death toll of more than 190,000 (though some estimates go as high as a million) — can now be measured against the results. The nine-year attempt to create an American client state in Iraq failed, tragically and completely. The proof of that is on today’s front pages.

    According to the crudest possible calculation, we spent blood and got no oil. Instead, America’s war of terror resulted in the dissolution of a Middle Eastern post-Cold War stasis that, curiously enough, had been held together by Iraq’s previous autocratic ruler Saddam Hussein. We released a hornet’s nest of Islamic fervor, sectarianism, fundamentalism, and pan-nationalism. Islamic terror groups grew stronger and more diffuse by the year. That horrible lightning over the Middle East that’s left American foreign policy in such an ugly glare will last into our grandchildren’s days. There should have been so many futures. Now, there will be so few as the dead accumulate in the ruins of our hubris. That is all that we won.

    Under a new president, elected in 2008 in part on his promise to end American military involvement in Iraq, Washington’s strategy morphed into the more media-palatable mantra of “no boots on the ground.” Instead, backed by aggressive intel and the “surgical” application of drone strikes and other kinds of air power, U.S. covert ops were to link up with the “moderate” elements in Islamic governments or among the rebels opposing them — depending on whether Washington was opting to support a thug government or thug fighters.

    The results? Chaos in Libya, highlighted by the flow of advanced weaponry from the arsenals of the dead autocrat Muammar Gaddafi across the Middle East and significant parts of Africa, chaos in Yemen, chaos in Syria, chaos in Somalia, chaos in Kenya, chaos in South Sudan, and, of course, chaos in Iraq.

    And then came the Islamic State (IS) and the new “caliphate,” the child born of a neglectful occupation and an autocratic Shia government out to put the Sunnis in their place once and for all. And suddenly we were heading back into Iraq. What, in August 2014, was initially promoted as a limited humanitarian effort to save the Yazidis, a small religious sect that no one in Washington or anywhere else in this country had previously heard of, quickly morphed into those 1,600 American troops back on the ground in Iraq and American planes in the skies from Kurdistan in the north to south of Baghdad. The Yazidis were either abandoned, or saved, or just not needed anymore. Who knows and who, by then, cared?  They had, after all, served their purpose handsomely as the casus belli of this war. Their agony at least had a horrific reality, unlike the supposed attack in the Gulf of Tonkin that propelled a widening war in Vietnam in 1964 or the nonexistent Iraqi WMDs that were the excuse for the invasion of 2003.

    The newest Iraq war features Special Operations “trainers,” air strikes against IS fighters using American weapons abandoned by the Iraqi Army (now evidently to be resupplied by Washington), U.S. aircraft taking to the skies from inside Iraq as well as a carrier in the Persian Gulf and possibly elsewhere, and an air war across the border into Syria.

    It Takes a Lot of Turning Points To Go In a Circle

    The truth on the ground these days is tragically familiar: an Iraq even more divided into feuding state-lets; a Baghdad government kleptocracy about to be reinvigorated by free-flowing American money; and a new Shia prime minister being issued the same 2003-2011 to-do list by Washington: mollify the Sunnis, unify Iraq, and make it snappy. The State Department still stays hidden behind the walls of that billion-dollar embassy. More money will be spent to train the collapsed Iraqi military. Iran remains the foreign power with the most influence over events.

    One odd difference should be noted, however: in the last Iraq war, the Iranians sponsored and directed attacks by Shia militias against American occupation forces (and me); now, its special operatives and combat advisors fight side-by-side with those same Shia militias under the cover of American air power. You want real boots on the ground? Iranian forces are already there. It’s certainly an example of how politics makes strange bedfellows, but also of what happens when you assemble your “strategy” on the run.

    Obama hardly can be blamed for all of this, but he’s done his part to make it worse — and worse it will surely get as his administration once again assumes ownership of the Sunni-Shia fight. The “new” unity plan that will fail follows the pattern of the one that did fail in 2007: use American military force to create a political space for “reconciliation” between once-burned, twice-shy Sunnis and a compromise Shia government that American money tries to nudge into an agreement against Iran’s wishes. Perhaps whatever new Sunni organization is pasted together, however briefly, by American representatives should be called the Grandsons of Iraq.

    Just to add to the general eeriness factor, the key people in charge of putting Washington’s plans into effect are distinctly familiar faces. Brett McGurk, who served in key Iraq policy positions throughout the Bush and Obama administrations, is again the point man as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran. McGurk was once called the “Maliki whisperer” for his closeness to the former prime minister. The current American ambassador, Robert Stephen Beecroft, was deputy chief of mission, the number two at the Baghdad embassy, back in 2011. Diplomatically, another faux coalition of the (remarkably un)willing is being assembled. And the pundits demanding war in a feverish hysteria in Washington are all familiar names, mostly leftovers from the glory days of the 2003 invasion.

    Lloyd Austin, the general overseeing America’s new military effort, oversaw the 2011 retreat. General John Allen, brought out of military retirement to coordinate the new war in the region — he had recently been a civilian advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry — was deputy commander in Iraq’s Anbar province during the surge. Also on the U.S. side, the mercenary security contractors are back, even as President Obama cites, without a hint of irony, the ancient 2002 congressional authorization to invade Iraq he opposed as candidate Obama as one of his legal justifications for this year’s war. The Iranians, too, have the same military commander on the ground in Iraq, Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’s Quds Force. Small world. Suleimani also helps direct Hezbollah operations inside Syria.

    Even the aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf launching air strikes, the USS George H.W. Bush, is fittingly named after the president who first got us deep into Iraq almost a quarter century ago. Just consider that for a moment: we have been in Iraq so long that we now have an aircraft carrier named after the president who launched the adventure.

    On a 36-month schedule for “destroying” ISIS, the president is already ceding his war to the next president, as was done to him by George W. Bush. That next president may well be Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state as Iraq War 2.0 sputtered to its conclusion. Notably, it was her husband whose administration kept the original Iraq War of 1990-1991 alive via no-fly zones and sanctions. Call that a pedigree of sorts when it comes to fighting in Iraq until hell freezes over.

    If there is a summary lesson here, perhaps it’s that there is evidently no hole that can’t be dug deeper. How could it be more obvious, after more than two decades of empty declarations of victory in Iraq, that genuine “success,” however defined, is impossible? The only way to win is not to play. Otherwise, you’re just a sucker at the geopolitical equivalent of a carnival ringtoss game with a fist full of quarters to trade for a cheap stuffed animal.

    Apocalypse Then — And Now

    America’s wars in the Middle East exist in a hallucinatory space where reality is of little import, so if you think you heard all this before, between 2003 and 2010, you did. But for those of us of a certain age, the echoes go back much further. I recently joined a discussion on Dutch television where former Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra made a telling slip of the tongue. As we spoke about ISIS, Hoekstra insisted that the U.S. needed to deny them “sanctuary in Cambodia.” He quickly corrected himself to say “Syria,” but the point was made.

    We’ve been here before, as the failures of American policy and strategy in Vietnam metastasized into war in Cambodia and Laos to deny sanctuary to North Vietnamese forces. As with ISIS, we were told that they were barbarians who sought to impose an evil philosophy across an entire region. They, too, famously needed to be fought “over there” to prevent them from attacking us here. We didn’t say “the Homeland” back then, but you get the picture.

    As the similarities with Vietnam are telling, so is the difference. When the reality of America’s failure in Vietnam finally became so clear that there was no one left to lie to, America’s war there ended and the troops came home. They never went back. America is now fighting the Iraq War for the third time, somehow madly expecting different results, while guaranteeing only failure. To paraphrase a young John Kerry, himself back from Vietnam, who’ll be the last to die for that endless mistake? It seems as if it will be many years before we know.




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    Iraq: How Many Turning Points and Milestones Until We Win?

    September 18, 2014 // 23 Comments »



    Meanwhile, 71 percent of Americans now support airstrikes in Iraq, and 65 percent in Syria.

    Secretary of State John Kerry said that the formation of a new Iraqi government was “a major milestone” for the country.

    Kerry told reporters at the State Department that the government formed on Monday in Baghdad had “the potential to unite all of Iraq’s diverse communities for a strong Iraq, a united Iraq and give those communities a chance to build a future that all Iraqis desire.”

    Kerry did not mention that divisive former Prime Minister Maliki, who was Washington’s man in Baghdad since 2006 tasked with uniting Iraq, stays on in the new government as Vice President. Kerry also did not mention that the job of uniting Iraq has been on various U.S.-supported Prime Ministers’ and other Iraqi officials’ to-do lists since 2003, never mind the eventual point of the nine year American Occupation and 4600 American deaths.

    But Kerry did say the week’s events are a major milestone. That’s the same as the turning point so often mentioned before about Iraq, right? Let’s look back:

    “This month will be a political turning point for Iraq,” Douglas Feith, July 2003

    “We’ve reached another great turning point,” Bush, November 2003

    “That toppling of Saddam Hussein… was a turning point for the Middle East,” Bush, March 2004

    “Turning Point in Iraq,” The Nation, April 2004

    “A turning point will come two weeks from today,” Bush, June 2004

    “Marines Did a Good Job in Fallujah, a Battle That Might Prove a Turning Point,” Columnist Max Boot, July 2004

    “Tomorrow the world will witness a turning point in the history of Iraq,” Bush, January 2005

    “The Iraqi election of January 30, 2005… will turn out to have been a genuine turning point,” William Kristol, February 2005

    “On January 30th in Iraq, the world witnessed … a major turning point,” Rumsfeld, February 2005

    “I believe may be seen as a turning point in the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism.” Senator Joe Lieberman, December 2005

    “The elections were the turning point. … 2005 was the turning point,” Cheney, December 2005

    “2005 will be recorded as a turning point in the history of Iraq… and the history of freedom,” Bush, December 2005

    “We believe this is a turning point for the Iraqi citizens, and it’s a new chapter in our partnership,” Bush, May 2006

    “We have now reached a turning point in the struggle between freedom and terror,” Bush, May 2006

    “This is a turning point for the Iraqi citizens.” Bush, August 2006

    “When a key Republican senator comes home from Iraq and says the US has to re-think its strategy, is this a new turning point?” NBC Nightly News, October 2006

    “Iraq: A Turning Point: Panel II: Reports from Iraq.” American Enterprise Institute, January 2007

    “This Bush visit could well mark a key turning point in the war in Iraq and the war on terror,” Frederick W. Kagan, September 2007

    “Bush Defends Iraq War in Speech… he touted the surge as a turning point in a war he acknowledged was faltering a year ago,” New York Times, March 2008

    “The success of the surge in Iraq will go down in history as a turning point in the war against al-Qaeda,” The Telegraph, December 2008

    “Iraq’s ‘Milestone’ Day Marred by Fatal Blast,” Washington Post, July 2009

    “Iraq vote “an important milestone,” Obama, March 2010

    “Iraq Withdrawal Signals New Phase, But War is Not Over,” ABC News, August 2010

    “Why the Iraq milestone matters,” Foreign Policy, August 2010

    “Iraq Milestone No Thanks to Obama,” McCain, September 2010

    “Hails Iraq ‘milestone’ after power-sharing deal, ” Obama, November 2010

    “Week’s event marks a major milestone for Iraq,” Council on Foreign Relations, March 2012

    “National elections ‘important milestone’ for Iraq,” Ban Ki Moon, April 2014

    “Iraq PM nomination ‘key milestone,'” Joe Biden, August 2014




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    Hearts, Minds and Dead Sunnis in Iraq

    September 15, 2014 // 6 Comments »

    A critical part of America’s plan to resolve all issues left unresolved after nine years of war and occupation is to divide the indigenous Sunnis from the “foreign” Sunnis, i.e., ISIS, and “unite” Iraq.

    As counter-insurgency theory teaches, bad guys can only thrive when they have local support, what Mao called the “water we swim in.”

    There is a familiar ring to the plan.

    Unity Plan, 2006

    In 2006 the U.S. brokered the ascension (remember the purple fingers?) of a new Shia Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, hand-picked to unite Iraq. A bright, shining lie of a plan followed. The U.S., applying vast amounts of money, created the Sahwa, the Sons of Iraq, the Anbar Awakening, a loose grouping of Sunnis who agreed to break with al Qaeda in return for a promised place at the table in the New(er) Iraq. The “political space” for this would be created by a massive escalation of the American military effort, called by its the more marketable name, The Surge. In the end the Shia government in Baghdad ignored American entreaties to be inclusive, effectively ending the effort.

    Unity Plan, 2014

    And so to 2014. The U.S. brokered the ascension (no purple fingers needed this time for visuals) of a new Shia Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, hand-picked to unite Iraq. His play so far along these lines? Asking his military to stop bombing and shelling his own-citizen Sunni civilians.

    Al-Abadi said on Saturday, after he held talks with travelin’ man U.S. Secretary of State Kerry in Baghdad, that he ordered his air force to halt strikes on civilian areas occupied by Iraqi citizens, albeit Sunnis. He also asked his Iraqi security forces to stop “the indiscriminate shelling” of civilian Sunni communities occupied by ISIS.

    “Incidents”

    The hearts and minds moves by al-Abadi follow several incidents which may yet have an effect for indigenous Sunni feelings toward unity.

    Senior Iraqi officials acknowledged in recent days that shelling by their armed forces has killed innocent civilians in the course of the battle against ISIS. Attacks on Sunni towns have been part of what many Sunnis call a pattern of sectarian bias by the Shiite-dominated security forces. Human Rights Watch reports one Iraqi government airstrike targeted a school near Tikrit housing displaced Sunni families fleeing ISIS. That strike killed at least 31 civilians, including 24 children. Human Rights Watch also reported earlier Iraqi government airstrikes, including six with the type of barrel bombs commonly used by Syrian leader Assad to kill his own people, had killed at least 75 civilians and wounded hundreds more in mainly Sunni areas.

    (Despite the incessant playing of the ISIS beheading videos of three Westerners, no images of the dead Sunni children have made it to American media.)

    Earlier this year the Iraqi Shia government also employed barrel bombs, U.S.-supplied Hellfire missiles as well as some of the 11 million rounds of ammunition the U.S. shipped in, against Sunni targets in Fallujah, itself the scene of some of the most intense U.S.-Sunni fighting during the previous Iraq War.

    Government-backed Shia militias have also been kidnapping and killing Sunni civilians throughout Iraq’s Baghdad, Diyala, and Hilla provinces over the past five months. Human Rights Watch documented the killings of 61 Sunni men early this summer, and the killing of at least 48 Sunni men in March and April.

    Memories are Long

    Many Sunnis see their own government as more of a threat than any ISIS occupation, given the record of the past eight years of Shia control. The Sunnis are also aware that the Shia government purportedly now seeks some measure of unity only after it was prompted by the United States. The Sunnis most clearly do remember being abandoned by the U.S. and the Shia government after they last agreed to break with a foreign Sunni group, al Qaeda, in 2007. You have the watch, but we have the time, says an Iraqi expression.

    Memories are long in the Middle East.

    Any sane human being welcomes a decision to not bomb and shell civilians, particularly if it is actually carried out. However, in the broader strategic context of Iraq, especially vis-a-vis American claims that Sunni-Shia unity is the key to stability, one wonders how much of the statement by the new Iraqi prime minister is based on the need to throw another bone to Americans always ready to proclaim another short term success, even as they speed walk down the road to Hell.



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    Kerry Says U.S. Troops Could Deploy to Iraq

    September 10, 2014 // 4 Comments »

    For those who argued with the theory about a month ago that interceding in Iraq for “humanitarian purposes” to help the Yazidis was just a subterfuge to have the U.S. re-enter a messy war that supposedly ended for us in 2011, well, you were wrong.

    It was. Enjoy that slippery slope.

    This Means War

    Just hours ahead of the president’s speech where he is expected to widen the current Iraq War, possibly expand the war into Syria, all the while pledging there will be “no American boots on the ground,” Secretary of State John Kerry got ahead of his boss when he raised the possibility U.S. troops could be committed to ground operations in Iraq in extreme circumstances, the first hedging by an Obama administration official on the president’s pledge that there will be no U.S. boots on the ground to battle the Islamic State.

    Kerry made the comment during a news conference after a day of meeting with Iraqi officials.

    While Kerry reiterated that Obama has indeed said that no U.S. combat troops would be deployed to fight the Islamic State in Iraq, he adding “unless, obviously, something very, very dramatic changes.”

    No U.S. official has previously used those words in discussing the growing U.S. confrontation with the Islamic State.

    Doomed to Repeat It

    Just as a reminder of the last few weeks, here’s some history:

    — From 2011 until early August, the U.S. was not involved overtly, militarily, in Iraq.

    — In announcing U.S. airstrikes in Iraq in August, Obama said they would be limited to preventing Islamic State genocide of the Yazidi religious minority, a tasking quickly expanded to stopping the ISIS advance on the Kurdish capital of Irbil. Special Forces’ boots were on the ground.

    — As Obama deployed upwards of 1000 American troops as “advisors” into Iraq, the air mission was widened into protecting them and the embassy.

    — The Yazidi’s forgotten, the U.S. moved into providing close air support for Kurdish troops fighting,bombing near the Mosul Dam, being the air force for Iranians and Iranian-trained Shiite militia breaking the Islamic State siege of Amerli, and forces of whoever is fighting around the Haditha dam.


    Conclusion?

    While in Baghdad, Kerry also said “Every single [Iraqi] leader I talked with today in the strongest terms possible affirmed that they had learned the lessons of the past years” and were determined “to move in a different direction from the direction of years past,” he said.

    Ah, if only American leaders would do the same.



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    John Kerry Accidentally Sanctions Self

    July 23, 2014 // 4 Comments »




    “I’m still not sure exactly what happened,” said gaffe-prone, beleaguered Secretary of State John Kerry, “but I’m told I agreed to sanctions on myself.”


    In an exclusive, Kerry explained his mistake.


    “So there we were in the Middle East. I travel almost constantly, and at my age, even with a large staff, it can get hard to keep track. I mean, have you ever been to the MidEast? Every place looks like every other place. It’s hot, sandy, and each country seems to have some sort of odd headgear. Look, I’m not the first to get confused by all this.”

    “Anyway, so I’m tired. We’re in West-Somewhere-Stan, some forsaken patch of garbage with no oil, where the national export is dust, and I’m shaking hands for a photo op with what seems like the same orphan I shook hands in Baghdad, Kabul, Cairo and Tunis. Does that kid travel on the plane with me? We had had some local food for lunch which did not agree with me, and so I proposed sanctioning humus. Maybe it was sort of a joke, maybe I meant Hamas, maybe it was the Ambien talking. Next thing I know, the State Department spokesperson in Washington is telling reporters I have imposed a sanction on a beloved food product.”

    “It really hits the fan then. Half the Middle East turns around and imposes retaliatory sanctions on me. Those people can’t agree on something simple like not killing each others’ kids, and bang! overnight they band together on some silly food thing. I had hoped it was going to blow over after another suicide bombing like always, but then Israel joins in the sanctions against me. Cray cray, amiright?”

    Kerry leaned over to an aide, who confirmed for him that he had read his printed talking points correctly.

    “Can’t be too careful, right?” joked Kerry, now chewing on the edge of the note card.

    “So once Israel agreed to join every Arab nation on the planet in sanctioning me, my hands were tied. I mean, when Israel barks, I’m there with a Scooby treat, often a multi-million dollar treat. So, in a show of solidarity with Israel– who indeed has the right to defend itself against me, which I strongly support– I agreed to join the sanctions regime against myself. I even explained that the United States views the situation with concern to make it all official. Tomorrow I’ll add ‘grave concern.’ That’ll show me I mean business about myself.”

    “Next thing I know, everybody in the U.S. is on TV about it. I thought nobody actually watched those Sunday morning news shows, but it turns out that Fox has an intern who takes notes if she’s up early. Pretty soon all of the media has opinions on this, some former Ambassador is writing an Op-Ed and then Barack orders me to come home and not leave my room.”

    “So we get on the plane and I’m relaxing with a stiff drink when out the window I see three F-18’s escorting us. My pilot tells me they’re trying to force us to land somewhere, saying I’m violating my own sanctions by flying, plus I’m on the No-Fly list now. Guess what? I end up in Moscow! Nearest airport somehow. You’d think they had a lot of places to stay there with capitalism and all, but I found out all the VIPs are stuck in the same place, which was booked solid for the Ukrainian National Day celebration, and I get stuck on Edward Snowden’s couch for the night. Awkward.”

    “At least the guy is pretty quiet, though he leaves his towels on the floor in the shower. And who doesn’t flush? But we got along OK and he even helped me with my laptop. The State Department still runs some software thingie I’m told is called “Windows XP” and Snowden told me it hadn’t been ‘patched’ since ‘like when the first Matrix came out.’ I had left the paper with all my passwords on the plane, but he knew mine somehow. He even said he installed a free ‘keylogger’ for me and some other good stuff. I asked him if I needed a new laptop and he was adamant that I should never, ever stop using the one he had installed all that magic stuff on. What could I say? Hah hah, I can’t even program my VCR I told Ed.”

    “That was apparently funny, because my aide had to explain to Ed what a VCR was. Ed said ‘LOL,’ which made me feel good after all those sanctions.”

    “How it could the day get worse? One word– Vladimir Putin. Really, what is that guy’s problem? Putin shows up on TV opposing sanctions against me. C’mon, does that dude have to oppose everything we do? Yeah, apparently he does. So I have to throw together a press conference where I call out Putin for opposing sanctions on me, and call on the international community to robustly support even greater sanctions against me. The EU issues a statement saying they resolutely aren’t sure what their position is, and the press sniping starts all over. I’m stuck ‘accidentally’ saying into an open mic I’m personally really angry at myself for not upholding the sanctions. What a mess.”

    “Next thing I know, my own State Department starts Tweeting about the sanctions, hashtagging my sorry self with junk like #SaveALifeSanctionKerry. Worse yet, they’re sending me emails asking me to approve the Tweets about myself, something about policies come and go but bureaucracy remains. Man, me and Snowden had a laugh about that one. He knew my password for Netflix and so we just chilled after that.”

    “So here I am stuck in Russia with all these sanctions on me. I hear Obama is threatening to ‘ratchet down’ the sanctions on me if China doesn’t lower tariffs. I’d like to fly there and sort that out, but with the sanctions I’m really over a barrell. I can’t even use my card at the ATM. At this point I’m not sure what to do next. I’m thinking of calling up Jon Stewart and seeing if he’ll weigh in for me. He’s about the only guy left Barack really listens to. Wish me luck.”



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    Things Fall Apart: Iraq

    June 27, 2014 // 24 Comments »




    The mistakes of U.S. foreign policy are mostly based on the same flawed idea: that the world is a chessboard on which the U.S. makes moves, or manipulates proxies to make moves, that either defeat, counter or occasionally face setbacks from the single opponent across the table.

    The game held up for a fair amount of time; the U.S. versus the Nazis (D-Day = checkmate!), the U.S. versus Japan (Lose an important piece at Pearl Harbor, grab pawns island by island across the Pacific, and so forth). Most of the Cold War seemed to work this way.

    And so into Iraq in 2003. The Bush administration seemed to believe they could invade Iraq, topple Saddam and little would be left to do but put away the unused chessmen and move on to the next game. In reality, world affairs do not (any longer?) exist in a bipolar game. Things are complex, and things fall apart. Here is a quick tour of that new form of game in Iraq.

    Iran

    — Iranian transport planes are making two daily flights of military equipment into Baghdad, 70 tons per flight, to resupply Iraqi security forces.

    — Iran is flying Ababil surveillance drones over Iraq from Al Rashid airfield near Baghdad. Tehran also deployed an intelligence unit to intercept communications. General Qassim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force, visited Iraq at least twice to help Iraqi military advisers plot strategy. Iran has also deployed about a dozen other Quds Force officers to advise Iraqi commanders, and help mobilize more than 2,000 Shiite militiamen from southern Iraq.

    — As many as ten divisions of Iranian military and Quds Force troops are massed on the border, ready to intevene if Baghdad comes under assault or if important Shiite shrines in cities like Samarra are threatened, American officials say.

    — Suleimani was a presence in Iraq during the U.S. Occupation and helped direct attacks against American troops. In particular, Iraqi Shiite militias under the tutelage of Suleimani attacked American troops with powerful explosive devices supplied by Tehran. These shaped charges were among the very few weapons used toward the end of the U.S. Occupation that could pierce U.S. armor, and were directly responsible for the deaths of Americans.

    — General Suleimani is also the current architect of Iranian military support in Syria for President Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. calls for Assad to give up power, and was steps away from war in Syria to remove Assad only months ago.

    — Should America conduct air strikes in Iraq (some claim they are already stealthily underway), those strikes would be in direct support of Iranian efforts, and perhaps Iranian troops, on the ground.

    — The United States has increased its manned and unmanned surveillance flights over Iraq, and is now flying about 30 to 35 missions a day. The American flights include F-18s and P-3 surveillance planes, as well as drones.

    ISIS

    — ISIS, currently seen as a direct threat to both Iraq, Syria and the Homeland, is a disparate group of mostly Sunni-affiliated fighters with strong ties to Syria. The U.S. is now at war with them, though it appears that as recently as 2012 the U.S. may have had Special Forces arming and training them at a secret base in Safawi, in Jordan’s northern desert region. There are reports that the U.S. also trained fighters at locations in Turkey, feeding them into the Syrian conflict against Assad.

    — ISIS has been funded for years by wealthy donors in Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, three supposed U.S. allies. “The U.S. Treasury is aware of this activity and has expressed concern about this flow of private financing. But Western diplomats’ and officials’ general response has been a collective shrug,” a Brookings Institute report states.

    — ISIS itself is a international group, though added 1,500 Sunni Iraqis it liberated from a Shia prison near Mosul. A senior U.S. intelligence official said there are approximately 10,000 ISIS fighters — roughly 7,000 in Syria and 3,000 in Iraq. There are between 3,000 and 5,000 foreign fighters who have been incorporated into ISIS ranks.

    Turkey

    — The New York Times reports Turkey allowed rebel groups of any stripe easy access across its borders to the battlefields in Syria in an effort to topple President Bashar al-Assad. An unknown number of Turks are now hostages in Iraq, and Turkey continues its tussles with the Kurds to (re)fine that border.

    — “The fall of Mosul was the epitome of the failure of Turkish foreign policy over the last four years,” said Soli Ozel, a professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul. “I can’t disassociate what happened in Mosul from what happened in Syria.”

    Iraq

    — With the official Iraqi Army in disarray, Prime Minister Maliki is increasingly reliant on Shiite militias primarily loyal to individual warlords and clerics, such as the Madhi Army. Despite nine years of Occupation, the U.S. never defeated the Madhi Army. Prime Minister Maliki never had the group surrender its weapons, and now, with the Baghdad government too weak to disarm them, they exist as the private muscle of Iraq’s hardline Shias. Once loosed onto the battlefield, Maliki will not be able to control the militias. The Mahdi Army has also sworn to attack American “advisors” sent to Iraq, believing them to be a vanguard for a second U.S. occupation. Many of the most powerful militias owe their ultimate loyalty not to the Iraqi state, but to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Sadr has much blood on his hands left over from the Occupation.

    Syria and Israel

    — Syrian government aircraft bombed Sunni targets inside Iraq on Tuesday, killing at least 57 civilians and wounding 120. Syrian warplanes also killed at least 12 people in the eastern Iraqi city of Raqqa Wednesday morning. A U.S. official said it was not clear whether the Iraqi government requested or authorized Syrian air strikes in Iraqi territory.

    Israeli warplanes and rockets struck targets inside Syria the same day as Syria struck Iraq.


    Checkmate

    It should be clear that there is no such thing as simply “doing something” in this crisis for the U.S. As with the 2003 invasion itself, no action by the United States can stand alone, and every action by the United States will have regional, if not global, repercussions apparently far beyond America’s ability to even understand.

    A chess game? Maybe, of sorts. While American interest in Iraq seems to parallel American interest in soccer, popping up when world events intrude before fading again, the other players in Iraq have been planning moves over the long game. In the blink of an eye, U.S. efforts in Syria have been exposed as fully-counterproductive toward greater U.S. goals, the U.S. has been drawn back into Iraq, with troops again on the ground in a Muslim war we thought we’d backed out of. The U.S. finds itself supporting Iranian ground forces, and partnering with militias well outside of any government control, with Special Forces working alongside potential suicide bombers who only a few years ago committed themselves to killing Americans in Iraq. What appears to be the U.S. “plan,” some sort of unity government, belies the fact that such unity has eluded U.S. efforts for almost eleven years of war in Iraq.

    In such a complex, multiplayer game it can be hard to tell who is winning, but it is easy in this case to tell who is losing. Checkmate.



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    Holder and Mueller Spent $7.8 Million Taxpayer Dollars on Personal Travel

    April 17, 2014 // 7 Comments »




    With income tax season in the U.S. in full swing, all thoughts turn to cheating.

    It has been said that perhaps some Americans are not fully honest on their tax reporting. Some may “forget” to report cash payments here and there, and more than a few will likely exaggerate business and other expenses to score a deduction. It’s a kind of tradition, one that lessens how much tax money the government gets from us Citizens.


    Payback

    So I guess in that context Attorney General and head of the Department of Justice Eric Holder, and former FBI Director Robert Mueller taking advantage of a loophole to not report lots of personal travel at taxpayer expense is just some payback on all you cheaters.

    The Government Accounting Office (GAO) works directly for the Congress. In a recent report to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the GAO reminds that federal agencies are usually required to report trips taken by senior officials on government aircraft unless the trips are classified. The point of this reporting is to make sure officials are not using taxpayer money to fly government planes for personal travel (“non-mission purposes.”)

    Exemptions

    But wouldn’t you know it, the General Services Administration, the executive branch’s kind of one-stop administrative and office manager, created a handy reporting exemption that covers intelligence agencies, even in cases of unclassified personal travel. A CIA official, even if using a government airplane to visit her son at college, would not have to report that misuse to the supposed watchdog agency because of that exemption. The exemption as written by the executive branch never defined what constitutes an “intelligence agency” for this purpose.

    The GAO learned that Holder and Mueller decided on their own, again without oversight, that the intelligence agency exemption also applied to them. They never reported their personal use of government aircraft. GAO investigators, however, pried loose enough information to show Holder, Mueller and other Justice Department executives took 395 unclassified, non-mission flights between fiscal years 2009 and 2010, at a cost to taxpayers $7.8 million. Maybe that’s chump change dollar-wise in the overall flood of government waste and fraud, but it certainly does not set a good example when two of the nation’s top law enforcement officials cheat over chump change.

    Worse yet, the GAO found Holder’s use of FBI aircraft, which are supposed to be reserved for the agency’s own operations, could hinder the agency’s operations. Since the FBI always has to have a plane on standby for emergency purposes, the agency has had to lease another aircraft while theirs was being used to ferry Justice Department officials.

    It’s OK

    Anyway, after having been caught red-handed abetting stealing from the public trough, the General Services Administration promised to eliminate the intelligence exemption applying to non-mission, unclassified travel sometime soon. The Department of Justice made no comments on the matter.

    BONUS: Secretary of State John F. Kerry, headed to the Ukraine for some effective diplomacy in early March, had his government aircraft detour on his way, stopping in New York so he could meet his just-born granddaughter. State Department officials later characterized the detour as a “refueling stop.” It is unclear what State Department officials called the taxpayer motorcade from the airport to the hospital as.

    BONUS BONUS: Senior executives at the Internal Revenue Service were spending hundreds of thousands of tax dollars commuting to Washington from their homes across the country, instead of living in D.C. Many then skirted the law by not paying income tax on their hefty travel reimbursements, as ordinary Americans are required to do. An IRS source told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the most frequent travelers were officials who work in Washington but live in Dallas, Minneapolis and Atlanta, and have been flying to work on the taxpayers’ dime for years.



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    The British Empire, the Eagle and the Bear: Non-Options for Crimea and Ukraine

    March 5, 2014 // 30 Comments »




    “You just don’t invade another country on phony pretext in order to assert your interests,” John Kerry said on Meet the Press. “This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext. It’s really 19th century behavior in the 21st century.”

    Following Kerry’s comment, laughter could be heard from Iraq (twice), Afghanistan, Libya, many undisclosed parts of Africa, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria and across the Middle East. Faint chortles echoed out of Grenada, Bosnia, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Snickers in Panama, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and El Salvador.

    The Triumph of Syria

    Kerry of course had previously brought the joy of laughter to the world in the midst of the last Syrian “crisis.” Kerry clumsily tried to soften resistance to the Obama administration’s urge to launch strikes against al-Assad’s regime with the bizarre claim that such an attack would be “unbelievably small.”

    But like any good comedian, Kerry saved the big joke for last, when, in London enflight to the new, bestest war ever, Kerry famously and offhandedly said conflict could be avoided if the Syrians turned in their chemical weapons. In practically the same heartbeat, the Russians stepped into the diplomatic breach, with Vladimir Putin as an unlikely peacemaker. The U.S. did not attack Syria and the show ended with a good belly laugh for all.

    Onward to the Ukraine

    With Kerry once again taking the show on the road by flying to the Ukraine, all of cable TV has arisen as one demanding options, demanding cards to be played, demanding a catalog of “what the U.S. can do.” As a public service, here is that catalog of U.S. options for the Crimean Crisis:

    –Seal Team 6 will infiltrate Russia, ring Putin’s doorbell late at night and run away in Operation DING&DITCH. Ashton Kutcher will lead the Team.

    — A senior U.S. Embassy official in Moscow will cluck his tongue and roll his eyes disapprovingly.

    — State Department social media rangers will send out Tweets calling Putin a “poopy head.” The Russian translation by State will actually come across as “A green dog’s sandwich” but sure, they’ll get we’re mad.

    — The NSA will hack Putin’s web cam sessions, showing him shirtless. Putin himself will turn around and post the video online.

    — The NSA will also break into Putin’s NetFlix queue and change everything to romantic comedies and Jack Black movies.

    — The U.S. will recruit remaining allies Lichtenstein, Monaco, East Timor and Freedonia to enforce sanctions against Russia.

    — The State Department will direct Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Victoria Nuland to say “F*ck the E.U.,” in a recorded conversation with the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt.

    — Obama will unfriend Putin on Facebook.


    Flashman at the Charge

    As is obvious, there is little the U.S. can, should or will do. The more the U.S. swaggers hollowly about the Crimea, the sadder it all sounds.

    John Kerry, in what he thought was a stinging remark, labeled Russia’s invasion of the Crimean “19th century behavior in the 21st century.” As usual, Kerry was close to being right without actually realizing what he said.

    The 19th century player in this Great Gameis actually the U.S. itself. After following the footsteps of the British Empire into Iraq, after plunging deep into the graveyard of the British Empire in Afghanistan, after fumbling in the British swamp of Pakistan, the U.S. now returns to the land of the Charge of the Light Brigade, the Crimea. Like the Victorian British, the U.S. imagines the world as a chessboard where it can move pieces around with predictable results, shaping world affairs to its own advantage while placing opponents in check. If that was ever true, the events of the last decade demonstrate it is not true anymore.

    As with everyone else who failed to learn the lessons of history and thus will be doomed to repeat them, inevitably next, the U.S. will slip beneath the waves as did the British Empire, over-extended, bankrupt and endlessly tied to foreign policy adventures that mean nothing while the world changes around it. It’s been a good run though, right?



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    John Kerry Superstar

    November 27, 2013 // 13 Comments »



    “John Kerry has the skill, toughness, and ego to be a great secretary of state,” says Aaron David Miller on ForeignPolicy.com. So that’s that.

    But don’t stop there. Miller goes on to say:

    This sense of self-confidence is the hallmark of the Kerry style of diplomacy. No problem is too big that it can’t be made better. Trying and failing isn’t ideal; but it’s better than not trying at all. And if given enough time and focus — will and skill, too — there’s always a way forward. Only someone with this kind of can-do attitude would venture into Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy against such extremely long odds; keep pushing for a Geneva conference to end Syria’s civil war with the faintest of hopes of success; and (not or) be bullish on a deal with Iran that has alienated key U.S. allies and much of Congress, too.


    But wait, there’s more. In fact, Miller pulls out the debate trick everyone in Washington with an apparent failure to explain away uses:

    I’m less interested in an interim report card on his record. It is way too soon for that. What intrigues me more are the trend lines, and specifically what will be required at the end of the day for him to be judged a truly consequential secretary of state, let alone one of America’s best. Perhaps this isn’t his goal. But watching John Kerry — the Energizer Bunny of U.S. diplomacy — I’d be stunned if it wasn’t.


    First, a big “LOL” for the Energizer Bunny reference. But the real rabbit out of the hat is the idea that no matter messed up Kerry seems to be at present, we just have to wait, for what, like 20 or 40 years and then we’ll see he was right all along. I remember the Bush apologists saying the same garbage about the Iraq War, give it time, history will judge. Right.

    The article goes on and on, tumbling to earth somewhere between the Plain of Lack of Insight and the Sea of Hagiography. And why not? Here’s what the author’s Wikipedia page has to tell us about his objectivity on the subject of America’s international relations, especially in the MidEast:

    Miller worked within the United States Department of State for twenty four years (1978–2003). Between 1988 and 2003, Miller served six secretaries of state as an advisor on Arab-Israeli negotiations, where he participated in American efforts to broker agreements between Israel, Jordan, Syria, and the Palestinians. He left the Department of State in January 2003 to serve as president of Seeds of Peace, an international youth organization, founded in 1993. In January 2006, he became a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC.

    Now you’d think a guy who was dining out on participating in 15 years of stalemate in the Middle East might be a tad… humble, or introspective, instead of the dull cheerleading that passes for journalism over at FP.com. Hah hah.



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    BREAKING: John Kerry Proclaims End to “Monroe Doctrine” Not Relevant for 100 Years Anyway

    November 20, 2013 // 13 Comments »

    Remember back in 8th grade U.S. History with Mr. O’Neil, the alcoholic football coach who had to teach at least one class to stay on the payroll? He taught you about the Monroe Doctrine (go ahead and check Wikipedia if you have to, but this is gonna be on the test people I kid you not. Bueller, are you paying attention?!?)

    The Monroe Doctrine was an early spasm of empire by the U.S., declaring, just ’cause it could, that Europeans could no longer create colonies in Central and South America. Those areas, as of 1823, would be exclusively America’s turf to conquer, control, exploit. The U.S. did this conquering, controlling and exploiting with great gusto, from essentially annexing all of Central America using Marines, to overthrowing various South American governments and installing U.S. puppets who maintained control by torturing and repressing their own people. It was all a rich tapestry of murder and slime, kind of like what happened to the Native Americans but with a Doctrine.

    Nobody in America but 8th grade U.S. History teachers has given a crap about the Monroe Doctrine for the last 100 years. Down south, however, they do remember how sick it was that the U.S. just announced it was conquering Central and South America. It’s in their history classes too, with a different spin.

    FYI: The Europeans have not recently been doing much colonizing in Central and South America.

    A Genuine Capacity for Mediocrity

    None of that mattered, as “America’s Own,” Secretary of State John Kerry, strained to make headlines recently by declaring “that the Monroe Doctrine, a nearly 200-year-old policy which had governed Washington’s relations with Latin America, was finally dead.”

    In a previous piece we noted that in his nine months as secretary of state, Kerry, the man, has shown a genuine capacity for mediocrity and an almost tragicomic haplessness. Why would he do something as pointless as pronounce a self-proclaimed imperialistic doctrine that has not been relevant for like 100 years now dead? Kerry might as well be talking about the Stamp Act, or the Whiskey Rebellion (dammit, if you need to look those up too, do it yourself. Jeez, they were on the SAT.)

    To understand Kerry, you need to understand the State Department he works for.

    State is a wholly insular organization. State has devolved into nothing more than America’s increasingly irrelevant concierge abroad as foreign policy moves into the NSC and/or the Pentagon. State continues to turn inward. When no one in Washington really gives a rat’s behind about what State “reports” from “the field” via its “cables,” State just doubles-down and spends its time praising itself. “Nice think-piece cable on widows in Morocco Smithers– I heard the Deputy Assistant Secretary scanned the summary. Kudos my good man!” Yes, State still uses words like kudos. Go look that up too.

    Viva Senor Kerry!

    So in the minds at State, it worked like this. Between the long legacy of evil actions by the U.S., the Snowden revelations that the NSA spies on everyone everywhere in Central and South America, U.S. bullying of tiny Ecuador over Julian Assange, U.S. bullying of Bolivia over Snowden, U.S. bullying of Venezuela over whatever it is that bugs the U.S. so much about Venezuela, and the fifty year hissy fit over Cuba, someone at State glanced up from perusing his morning dispatches to realize the U.S. just isn’t well-thought of down there. Since inside State bull is just another reality, why not do something swell like announce the end of the Monroe Doctrine, and then, by golly, South Americans will like the U.S. once again! Our United States– still believing empty symbolism is a replacement for action. Might as well be giving beads and blankets to the Native Americans in return for Montana.

    And who knows what is next. Perhaps to calm the Germans, Kerry will repudiate the Treaty of Versailles?

    That’s really how they think. That’s how it came to be that the secretary of state went out of his way to proclaim an irrelevant doctrine dead one hundred years after it no longer mattered. That’s really what America’s representatives abroad do with your tax dollars.

    Viva la Doctrine de el Presidente Monroe! Viva Senor Kerry!



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    Guilty! UN Report on Syria Does Not Say What John Kerry Says it Said

    September 24, 2013 // 3 Comments »


    (This post originally appeared on Fire Dog Lake)

    The UN released its report on chemical weapons use in Syria. You can read it here. It’s not that long, just some forty pages including legal appendices. John Kerry says it confirms that the Assad regime fired the gas rockets. Unfortunately, that is not what the actual report says. In a court, Kerry’s case might be seen as circumstantial at best, certainly not enough for a jury to return a guilty verdict in a murder trial.

    Kerry said this (emphasis added):

    And what did they [the UN inspectors] learn? They returned with several crucial details that confirmed that the Assad regime is guilty of carrying out that attack, even though that was not the mandate of the UN report. But anybody who reads the facts and puts the dots together, which is easy to do – and they made it easy to do – understands what those facts mean.

    The White House added: “Indeed, several crucial details confirm the regime’s guilt.”

    The problem is that the report does not confirm anything other than chemical weapons were used. I can’t give you a quote because the report simply does not say– anywhere– that the Syria Army, or the rebels, or anyone by name– used the weapons. But don’t believe me. Unlike Kerry, I provide links, so check the full text of the report. If you don’t care to read it all, skip to page five, “Conclusions.” It just isn’t there. No one is named as the culprit.

    Regardless, Kerry goes on to make his circumstantial argument:

    We, the United States, have associated one of the munitions identified in the UN report, the 122-millimeter improvised rocket, with previous Assad regime attacks. There’s no indication – none – that the opposition is in possession or has launched a CW variant of these rockets such as the kind that was used in the 21st of August attack. Equally significant, the environmental, chemical, and medical samples that the UN investigators collected provide clear and compelling evidence that the surface-to-surface rockets used in this attack contained the nerve agent sarin. We know the Assad regime possesses sarin and there’s not a shred of evidence, however, that the opposition does.

    Objection your Honor! The prosecutor is jumping to a conclusion not supported by the evidence. He has found a gun next to the body. That the victim is sadly dead was never in question. That that gun was used to kill him was never in question. However, what, if anything, ties that gun and thus the murder to my client? Where is that evidence your Honor? The prosecutor is jumping from A to C in a capital case without putting the gun in my client’s hand.

    Sustained. The prosecution must show evidence that the defendant actually used the gun to commit the crime.

    Who shot the gas rockets? Could they have been fired by rogue military elements not acting under Assad’s orders? Could the Syrian army have lost control of some rockets which were picked up by the rebels (Vladimir Putin has made that very claim, that the rebels themselves fired the gas rockets in an attempt to draw the United States into the conflict)? Could a third party have supplied such rockets to the rebels to create a pretext for war? As there is no evidence in the UN report that the trigger was pulled by the Syrian Army under Assad’s orders, there is no evidence that the rebels pulled it and no evidence that someone else did. That’s why the UN report does not draw a conclusion of guilt– there’s no evidence on which to base such a conclusion.

    A final point. Page 22 of the report says:

    As with other sites, the locations have been well-traveled by other individuals prior to the arrival of the [UN] Mission. Time spent on the sites was well-used but limited. During the time spent at these locations, individuals arrived carrying other suspected munitions indicating that such potential evidence is being moved and possibly manipulated.

    Evidence tampering? A contaminated crime scene? Your Honor, I move that charges be dismissed against my client.

    Sustained. Prosecutor Kerry, I hold you in contempt!

    The U.S. is wholly misrepresenting facts in favor of another Middle East war. Unlike a fictional murder trial where one man’s life is on the line, should the U.S. attack Syria many, many people will lose their lives.

    I feel no jury would convict on the evidence presented by John Kerry, but, hey, you be the judge.




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    A Child’s Treasury of Tweets on Syria

    September 11, 2013 // 5 Comments »

    (Follow me on Twitter as @wemeantwell or I’ll just keep repeating myself here)


    US isn’t the world’s policeman Obama says. No, we’re the world’s George Zimmerman.

    The question no journalist will ask Obama: Mr. President, if you use the military again, tell me how this ends?

    And by the way, what wars had Obama ended? Even the end of the Iraq war was negotiated by Bush. (Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, AFRICOM)

    Our US military pinpricks are really BIG.



    The policy on Syria is in such disarray that it’s obvious Kerry is just making things up as he goes along.

    No truth to the rumor that Colin Powell will speak alongside Obama to make the case for war.

    Scary White House videos from Syria were on YouTube, but now “significant” as intel community gives stamp of “authenticity”

    How’d that last Middle East thingie work out for ya? Marines moved closer to Libya as 9/11 anniversaries approach.

    Iran warned the U.S. twice in 2012 that Syrian rebels the U.S. supports have chemical weapons of their own.

    Russia proposes Syria turn over chem weapons to avoid war. Predicting U.S. will claim Syria can’t be trusted in 5, 4, 3, 2…

    Pathetic: Susan Rice citing Bush officials who sold the WMD scam to Americans on Iraq as supporters of Syria strikes.

    When Obama said “There is no NSA spying on Americans,” he lied. But it’s cooool if you trust him on #Syria …

    When Obama talks about the dead children in Syria, do ask him why Syria is a crisis but North Korean labor camps are not even mentioned.

    日本の歴史の本で発見:”パールハーバー:。ただ空爆、地上の歩兵を持つ” (Found in the Japanese archives: “Pearl Harbor: Just an airstrike, with no boots on the ground.”)

    WaPo (slogan: Obama’s Stenographer) fans flames quoting unnamed source (Israel) about new threat– Syria bioweapons!

    Because it’s the morally right thing to do: France says it won’t act alone on Syria, waits for the UN.

    Obama: the world cannot remain silent on Syria. Meanwhile, the world disagrees and remains silently unconvinced.

    The world has set a red line, he says, but somehow he’s the only one in the world talking about it.

    Two wrongs don’t make a right, nor a policy. We do not need another war in the Middle East.

    Happened to be reading the chem weapons treaty. Says disputes settled by the UN. Nowhere does it say US’ obligation.

    Hagel either lied or was stirring up propaganda: Russia does not supply Syria with chemical weapons.

    Other popular international norms: don’t torture, don’t render, don’t violate sovereignty by drone, don’t indefinitely imprison people without trial.

    Obama in Egypt: OK to kill your own people. Obama in Syria: Killing your own people means war.

    Assad helped the U.S. torture rendered CIA prisoners.

    Some brown-skinned dude called me a sissy in the bar, so I beat him to ensure my credibility. Not related to Syria in any way.

    If I hear anyone, ever, say “boots on the ground” again, I will puke. Deal with it: It’s US infantry dying on another MidEast battlefield.

    Watching Kerry make things up on the spot today, one can’t help but wonder at what point those pharmaceutical grade hallucinogens kicked in.

    Kerry says multiple Arab nations support US attack on Syria, says can’t name countries in unclassified setting because “It’s complicated.”

    Party Outta Bounds in Pyongyang Ya’all: Kerry says failure to bomb #Syria will cause celebration in North Korea.

    Kerry gives weasel answer on “boots on the ground” ’cause a) special forces likely already on ground and b) more troops may go in to seize chemical weapons.

    Just called my Congressional reps’ offices to tell them vote no on Syrian attack. Call your reps today.

    Syria, thank you for calling. Your attack is important to us. Please stay on the line, and our cruise missiles will be with you shortly.

    What is wrong with these people– Kerry says Syria is now a “Munich moment.”

    I took a nap and now the war with Syria isn’t about sending a message to Assad anymore? It’s now about sending a message to Iran?

    Legal basis for attacking Syria? If the president does it of course it is legal.

    Kucinich: “Syria Strike Would Make U.S. Al Qaeda’s Air Force.” Well, there’s something we can all get behind.

    Once-great BBC ran Syrian-rebel supplied propaganda photo– actually taken years ago in Iraq– to stir up war fever.

    UN says will take weeks to analyze Syria samples for evidence of chem weapons; Kerry says US already has proof.

    Mix n’ Match: Obama’s strategy stands in contrast to 2011, when he sought UN authorization for Libya but not approval of Congress.

    Kerry: “Assad regime’s chem attack is a crime against conscience, humanity, the norm of int’l community.” AS ARE DRONES AND GITMO.

    If the US is sincere about a humanitarian response, send doctors to the refugee camps and nerve gas antidote and gas masks to Syria.

    Don’t you wish Nobel Peace prizes came with an expiration date after which they self-destruct?



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    He Lies, You Die (in Iraq): Troops to Stay Forever

    September 7, 2011 // Comments Off on He Lies, You Die (in Iraq): Troops to Stay Forever

    Bush, before scurrying away from Hague prosecutors, signed an agreement with Iraq to withdraw all American troops by 12/31/2011 (the mother of all New Year’s Eves). Obama, as a candidate, said he would honor this agreement. Zero US soldiers in Iraq by 12/31/2011. Yeah! Hope! Change! Nobel Peace Prize!

    “If we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am President, it is the first thing I will do,” Obama said with his fingers crossed behind his back in the fall of 2007. “I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank.”

    Of course, he lied.

    Plans all along were to keep US troops in Iraq, to secure permanent bases there (where has the US invaded and not kept bases? Yeah, I know, Vietnam, but where else?), run spec ops kill missions and of course train Iraqis to use the expensive weapons we will sell them. Needless to say, the troops would also be around to threaten Iran and Syria, serve as a counter-coup force and pressure Iraq when needed to do whatever slimy chores of empire were needed. This was going to be the take-away from eight years of otherwise pointless war.

    The numbers kicked around to do all this changed, falling quickly from some 35,000 to a commonly-accepted 10,000 soldiers. All that was needed was serious coin to pay for them (estimated at $5-10 billion a year times forever+infinity) and Iraqi buy-in.

    Sensing he has neither, rumors are now afloat on Fox and elsewhere that Obama is going to go with some 3000 soldiers, preempting any Iraqi decision/refusal. He’ll call them trainers and the Iraqi government will reluctantly accept them in return for God-knows-what kind of bribes and promises (check Wikileaks in a couple of months). Obama gets a toe hold on permanent bases, with the hope of cranking up the headcount quietly at a later date when America is distracted by a new season of X-Factor.

    One entertaining factoid: Fox reports that the only administration official fighting for at least 10,000 to stay in Iraq at the end of the year was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Despite recruiting an army of over 5500 mercenary orcs to protect her staff in Baghdad, Hils knows the troops would also be handy when it comes time to evacuate the World’s Largest Embassy (c).

    Fox (again) quoted deeply-closeted freak Senator Lindsey Graham, Idiot-S.C., as Tweeting that reducing the troop presence to 3000 “would put at risk all the United States has fought for in Iraq.”

    Obama will for sure promise that none of the 3000 soldiers he wants to station in Vietnam Iraq forever will ever be killed or injured. Do we have to start saying this line again? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

    Under this plan, they’ll just keep dying. Bring them home Obama.



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